Why Do Most Physicians Settle Out of Court?
Physician error lawsuits are medically complex. It may take years before the case is settled by jury verdict. A lengthy court trial can disrupt a doctor’s career, costing them patients, opportunities, and the ability to build their practice.
In addition, a long legal process means a greater chance of the trial impacting their professional reputation. It is challenging to regain a physician’s reputation after a damaging malpractice lawsuit.
Court costs and defensive legal fees are high. Gathering defensive evidence can also become expensive over time. If a case can be settled within the first year, a doctor may spend an average of $10,000 in defense costs. On the other hand, when claims drag on for two years, the average defense costs jump to under $50,000.
In extreme cases, a claim that takes four years to settle in court averages over $195,000 in defense fees. If a physician loses in court, there is a chance the judge will have the defendant pay the claimant’s attorney fees.
Another reason most doctors settle out of court is to reduce the damage award. The payment value of a claim trends upwards the longer it takes to settle. If a physician error claim can be settled within the first year, the average payment is under $100,000. However, after four years, the average payment on a claim by verdict is over $1 million.
Why Do Injured Patients Settle Out of Court?
Often, the injured patient can recover damages much faster than a jury trial. When a physician’s error causes major harm, it can take months or years to recover. Patients may not be able to return to work or work at the capacity they once did.
The longer a trial drags on, the more a claimant is at risk of financial hardship. Medical expenses and lost income can increase to staggering amounts over time. Without the necessary funds, patients may not be able to get certain treatments and procedures. Settling a medical malpractice claim can allow a claimant to recover their losses quicker than through the full trial process.
Can Doctors Be Sued for Making a Mistake?
Generally, doctors cannot be sued for making a mistake that is not the result of negligence. Medical errors and medical negligence are very different. The distinguishing characteristic of malpractice is a deviation from the accepted standard of care.
The medically accepted standard of care depends on the specialty and training of the doctor. Generally, the standard of care refers to how a reasonably competent physician would act under similar circumstances.
For example, suppose a doctor prescribes a common medication and the patient suffers an unexpected adverse reaction. It is reasonable to assume that most doctors would have prescribed the same commonly used medication under the same circumstances.
However, if the doctor prescribed medication and failed to check the patient’s chart for allergens that led to the adverse reaction, then their actions could be considered unreasonable and possibly grounds for a negligence claim.
In addition, the extent of harm suffered by the patient can distinguish a medical error from malpractice. A patient must sustain injuries that are specific in nature.
For instance, a common physician error is misdiagnosing the patient. If the misdiagnosis does not result in any harm or minor injury, the mistake may not qualify for a malpractice lawsuit. However, if a misdiagnosis leads to significant organ damage or the spread of malignant cancer, the patient has suffered specific harm that is recoverable in a malpractice claim.
How Hard Is It to Prove Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is very complex and often challenging to prove. To establish that a physician deviated from the medically accepted standard of care, a claimant must prove that a reasonable doctor with a similar background and under similar circumstances would not have made the same error.
What is considered reasonable can be very subjective in the medical community. Each medical case can have numerous variances, even under the same specialty. A physician error attorney with comprehensive medical knowledge is needed to effectively represent medical malpractice cases.