Our society has been programmed to view doctors as the ultimate authority. As a result, many people fail to take control of their own medical care. Even if they feel something is off or that a doctor has made a mistake, they might not mention it, instead assuming that their healthcare practitioner is the professional and therefor knows best. This is unfortunate for both patients and their doctors as it can lead to mishaps that result in damages to the former and a lawsuit for the latter. In short, everyone suffers when doctors make mistakes and/or patients fail to speak up. However, these things do happen, and in some cases your doctor can be held accountable for his actions (or inaction) in the course of your care, or in the care of a loved one. Before you pull the trigger on a lawsuit, however, there are a few things you might want to consider.
- Doctor-patient relationship. In order for you to have any basis for a lawsuit, you must first have an official relationship with the doctor in question, which means that services and payment have been exchanged. If you suffer harm because you followed second-hand or overheard advice from a medical professional, for example, you have no basis for a lawsuit. When a doctor you are paying fails to provide you with all of your medical options, fails to administer adequate care, or otherwise makes a mistake in the course of your treatment, you may have a foundation to sue for negligence or medical malpractice, but without first establishing a doctor-patient relationship, you cannot hope to win your case.
- Burden of proof. You should know that proving medical negligence can be extremely difficult, especially if your doctor has a solid reputation in his field and amongst his peers. And just because your treatment did not go as planned or did not deliver the results you expected doesn’t mean your doctor was negligent. In order for you to have a case, you must be able to prove that your doctor was derelict in his duties. In other words, you have to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that through act or omission he failed to meet accepted medical standards, leading to some kind of harm to the patient. This might not be easy, even if it’s true.
- Cost of litigation. Although you might be able to get a firm to work pro bono, depending on your case, you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny if you’re planning to sue a doctor. Whether he has a private practice or works for a hospital or other organization, chances are good that he has a cadre of highly-paid attorneys at his disposal. Even if you never make it to court because you decide to settle, you’ll likely have to fork a fair percentage of your awarded money over to your lawyer. And if you go to court and lose, you could end up holding the bag for both medical and legal costs.
- Mental and emotional cost. Litigation in trials like this can go on for months or even years in some cases. This can definitely take its toll on your mental and emotional state, especially following an instance of medical negligence that has already left you in a fragile state. If the potential financial burden of a lawsuit doesn’t give you pause, the possibility of further damage to your health and well-being should.
- What you might gain by settling. In the case of negligence, it doesn’t have to come down to a lawsuit. Often, both private practices and hospital administrations are willing to make some kind of settlement in order to avoid being sued. Of course, you’ll probably still want a qualified law firm like Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C. on your side to make sure the proposed settlement is fair (although you should find one that specializes in your particular area of medical malpractice). But you may be able to avoid a frustrating and lengthy process by settling instead of suing.