You count on your doctors and other health care professionals to take good care of you and to make responsible choices regarding your medical needs. So when that trust is violated and you end up suffering an injury due to the negligence of your doctor or other medical caregiver, you're sure to feel anxious and upset. Many people file medical malpractice lawsuits in such situations, and this could be the best approach for you to recoup the money you've now had to spend on medical care — and the funds you've lost by being unable to work. However, filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is a big and complicated endeavor, and there are some actions you should take before you jump in headfirst.
1. Contact the medical licensing board.
Sometimes, you may actually be able to settle your situation and get the funds you are owed without filing a lawsuit. Contact your state's medical board and tell them what happened. They may give you a form to fill out, or they may schedule an in-person interview with you to hear about your case. If the evidence is convincing, the medical board may offer to cover your damages outright. They may also take action against the doctor who acted negligently, such as issuing a formal warning or suspending their license. By trying this approach before you file a lawsuit, you are giving the medical board a chance to do its job -- regulating medical practice. You may also save yourself a few years of running to and from court for hearings and trials!
2. Check out the statute of limitations.
If you think you've been a victim of medical malpractice, you should quickly check the statute of limitations in your state. Different states have different limits. In New York, for example, you have 2 1/2 years to file a lawsuit. Once you know how long you have to file, you can be more judicious in your dealings with the medical licensing board. If they are taking a long time to process your case or don't seem interested in hearing your story, you may need to move forward and contact a lawyer to ensure the statute of limitations does not run out before you're able to do so.
3. Get copies of your medical records.
While doctors are required to release your own medical records to you upon request, there have been cases in which medical records mysteriously disappear once a malpractice case is on the horizon. Before any doctors or hospitals are aware that you are filing a case, make sure you get physical copies of your medical records. Scan them so you have a spare electronic copy as well. Having your medical records in-hand will make it easier for you to have a productive first meeting with your medical malpractice lawyer, too.
4. Talk to your lawyer about the possibility of a settlement.
Before your lawyer officially files the case, talk to him or her about the possibility of settling out of court. Many doctors and their insurance companies will attempt to settle a case out of court when possible, so you should know what your response will be in advance so you can respond promptly if this approach is suggested. For you, the benefit of settling out of court is that the process is faster and easier. The downside is that it does not result in as much public attention paid to the doctor's negligence. If your main goal is to raise awareness of your situation, not just to collect money, you may want to insist on taking the case to court.
Get in touch with a law firm such as Lee Eadon Isgett Popwell & Owens for more information.