What Happens in a Malpractice Lawsuit?

What Happens in a Malpractice Lawsuit?
What Happens in a Malpractice Lawsuit?

Serious mistakes like misdiagnosis, botched surgery, or anesthesia errors can betray your trust in a medical professional. In the most tragic cases, medical malpractice can even lead to the patient's premature death. These preventable incidents can physically and emotionally devastate victims and their families and cause overwhelming financial burdens.

Healthcare providers have both a moral and legal responsibility to "do no harm" by providing high-quality care, and they can be liable for failing to do so. If you've been seriously injured due to substandard medical treatment, know that the law is on your side. However, the legal process for these kinds of claims is notoriously complex due to the high burden of proof required. With so much at stake after medical negligence, being informed about how to best protect your rights as a patient can make all the difference.  Reach out to a Minnesota medical malpractice lawyer.

What Happens in a Malpractice Lawsuit?

It's widely understood that all medical treatments come with potential risks, even when healthcare providers have done everything absolutely right. That means a patient's negative health outcomes or complications aren't automatically evidence of negligence. However, doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other providers can and do harm their patients, sometimes leading to severe, life-threatening injuries with long-term consequences.

Medical malpractice laws are designed to identify true instances of negligence by evaluating whether the patient's care was consistent with the appropriate industry protocols for safe and effective care, as determined by medical science. If a provider's actions fall below these accepted standards in a way that directly hurts the patient, they can be potentially held responsible for the resulting physical, emotional, and financial consequences. 

The legal threshold for meeting medical negligence is rigorous and specific, making these cases a daunting legal challenge for victims, especially while recovering from their injuries.

An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can build a compelling case for compensation by establishing the four crucial elements required for medical malpractice: 

  • The patient deserved a duty of care: Every time you visit a hospital, clinic, or doctor's office to receive healthcare services, there's an implied agreement that providers owe you a duty of care. This is a basic legal responsibility to provide competent care up to the same standard as any adequate, skilled medical professional would give the patient. 
  • A breach in the duty of care: When healthcare providers deviate from the appropriate protocol for those specific circumstances, it's a breach of their duty and an act of negligence because it puts their patient at potential risk. For example, if you go to a cardiologist to discuss your chest pain and they dismiss your symptoms as being minor without conducting the necessary tests, this failure constitutes a breach that a more competent doctor could have avoided.
  • Causation for the victim's harm: The third element, causation, is often the hardest and most technically-complex aspect of winning a medical malpractice lawsuit because it's not enough to have evidence of substandard care. Your legal team would also have to demonstrate how this negligent act either directly caused or significantly contributed to your injuries or harm. Proving causation will depend on having the testimony of medical experts from the same field who can provide essential context to connect these dots. One example might be showing how a doctor could have diagnosed an aggressive form of cancer during its early stages but failed to do so by not following proper protocols for evaluating the patient's symptoms. Another common medical malpractice scenario is poor post-operative care which creates the conditions for the patient's complications from surgery.
  • The victim's damages: Finally, winning compensation for medical malpractice-related injuries will require showing the patient's damages or harm due to the healthcare provider's negligence. The consequences of receiving substandard medical care can be incredibly wide-ranging, from the physical pain and discomfort to the substantial medical costs for treating the victim's complications and lost income from having to miss work. Emotional and psychological harm, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, can also constitute a damage that deserves compensation. 

Understanding The Expert Witness Requirement For Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Medical malpractice cases are the most complicated in personal injury law due to the high stakes involved for both sides and the intricate procedural rules. Medical negligence laws differ slightly from state to state, but they all have statutes of limitations, or legal deadlines, for how long injured patients have to file a claim for medical negligence.

In Minnesota, this period is four years long, and there's no discovery rule which would extend the deadline for cases where the injuries were not discovered immediately. Wisconsin does follow the discovery rule but still places a hard time limit of five years from the date of the act of negligence. 

One of the most crucial procedural rules for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is the expert review requirement, also known as the Affidavit of Merit, which verifies that your claim is being brought on reasonable grounds. This step is necessary during the earliest stages of the legal process to prevent frivolous medical negligence claims from clogging up the court system. This means that without a well-prepared affidavit of merit, the court may dismiss your case before it even begins. 

Here's what victims of medical malpractice should know about navigating this critical aspect of the legal process: 

  • The Affidavit of Merit is a document stating a medical expert's professional opinion on your case: Minnesota's legal process requires signatures from two qualified professionals who reviewed your medical records in detail, assessed whether your injuries were caused by any deviation from appropriate standards, discerned that your claim has enough merit to be allowed to proceed, and are willing to testify on your behalf.
  • The quality of your Affidavit of Merit can make or break your medical malpractice case: Given the specialized knowledge required to meet the legal standard for medical negligence, this aspect of the legal process is about much more than just meeting a procedural requirement. A strong affidavit of merit with compelling arguments can help you win in court, but it's also extremely important for negotiating with the malpractice insurance company of the provider or institution that caused your injuries. Most medical malpractice cases do end up being settled out of court, but patients will need solid evidence to receive an offer that's substantial enough to cover their damages.
  • The expert supporting your case needs to have demonstrated knowledge and experience in a relevant medical field: The credibility of an affidavit of merit largely depends on having the testimony of someone with the authority to speak about the medical issues involved in your lawsuit. Ideally, they should be a practicing medical professional with the same specialty and credentials as the defendants in the case.  
  • An experienced medical malpractice lawyer is indispensable for fulfilling the Affidavit of Merit requirement. One of the biggest benefits of hiring a legal team that handles these kinds of cases is their access to a network of trusted medical experts who can support your negligence claim. Your attorneys can identify appropriate professionals for your specific case, facilitate their review of your records and work closely with them to prepare the affidavit of merit.   

The Timeline for Pursuing A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Patients who suffer medical negligence-related injuries may feel intimidated by the idea of taking legal action and have questions about the different steps involved in this process. Understanding what to expect is important for victims and their families to have peace of mind as their claim for compensation winds its way through the legal system.

While every case is different, the main stages of pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit include: 

  • Hiring an attorney with the skills and resources to handle your claim: This crucial first step begins by taking advantage of the free case evaluation most reputable medical negligence law firms offer, asking a wide range of questions, reviewing their track record with cases similar to yours and choosing a lawyer that inspires your confidence. 
  • Providing notice and beginning to gather evidence: Your legal team will get the ball rolling on your claim by notifying all potentially liable parties of the facts of your case and your intention to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This stage is also the beginning of preparing the case by requesting medical records, documenting the victim's damages, and hiring medical experts to review and strengthen your case. Investigating a medical malpractice claim might take just a few months or much longer, depending on the complexity of each case.
  • Engaging in discovery and negotiations: This stage in a lawsuit is when each party investigates the other side's arguments and evidence, including recorded interviews, also known as depositions. At this point, both sides are also trying to negotiate a settlement agreement that avoids escalating the case to a court trial. However, medical negligence claims can get incredibly contentious, especially if significant damages are involved. Insurers want to pay as little as possible, regardless of how much harm the victim experienced, and recovering fair compensation can entail multiple rounds of counteroffers.
  • If necessary, file a formal lawsuit and begin court proceedings: If negotiations aren't advancing, the next step is for your attorney to file a formal lawsuit and ask a court to resolve the matter. That means your legal team has to spend resources preparing your case to be presented before a judge or jury, which is a long and time-consuming process. However, negotiation talks do continue during this stage, and it's very common for medical negligence lawsuits to settle out of court, even after the trial has officially begun. One major reason is that medical malpractice insurers don't want claims involving serious injuries to be decided by a sympathetic jury that could potentially award a massive judgment and would prefer to settle instead. 

The Benefits of Hiring A Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Russell Nicolet
Russell Nicolet, Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Suffering serious injuries due to inexcusable medical mistakes can lead to life-changing hardships for victims and their families, as well as astronomical medical bills.

Pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit provides injured patients with legal recourse for receiving compensation after having their world turned upside down. Most importantly, a successful claim can provide the resources you'll need to move on with your life and be able to recover.

A lawyer that understands the specific challenges of preparing these kinds of cases can be your strongest ally every step of the way and help you navigate the legal process.

The crucial benefits of having legal guidance after medical malpractice include: 

  • Using an in-depth understanding of the intricate legal rules for proving medical negligence to investigate and present your case as effectively as possible
  • Handling all paperwork correctly and on time to prevent technical errors that can potentially affect your claim
  • Utilizing a wide range of resources to strengthen your case, including medical experts and specialists that can project the future and ongoing consequences of your injuries
  • Having the strong negotiation skills to push for a settlement offer that correctly reflects your damages from this ordeal
  • Providing services on a "contingency fee" basis, with no upfront costs or hourly billing, which makes legal representation accessible for any medical negligence victim with a valid claim

Finally, the right lawyer may provide support during a very chaotic and stressful experience, helping you feel empowered to hold negligent medical professionals accountable. While the legal process for pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit can seem incredibly daunting, you deserve to protect your rights and get fair compensation for your injuries by calling a personal injury lawyer.