About 95-98% of medical malpractice inquiries to my office are rejected. Having previously discussed medical malpractice law and the economics of bringing such an action, mostly for the med-bloggers and tort “reformers” who tune in to this station, let’s turn to the decision-making process for a short step-by-step. Remember that, since the case will not settle easily, and the painful economics of the contingency fee punish you harshly for picking poorly, the case better be strong. And one can safely assume that, as Ronald Miller points out at the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog, the doctor or hospital will not admit an error.
1. The Phone Call: Most inquiries don’t make it past this stage. Often, the complaint is of a bad result, discourteous conduct that leads to suspicions, or a plain old failure to understand what happened. This can be related to bad bedside manner, or an individual that unexpectedly finds himself listening to complicated medicine while in a state of high anxiety and distress. The potential client often doesn’t know how, if at all, the doctor departed from accepted medical practice. (When the call is made by another attorney seeking to forward the case on to me, the rejection rate is lower since s/he has already done a vetting process.)
2. The Interview: You find out more in person than by phone. Some people already have records or portions of records that help to reconstruct what happened. Friends and relatives may have bits and pieces of information that help. The reliability of the potential client(s) can also be evaluated.
3. The Record Review: This is often the first real expenditure, so you have to have a pretty good idea that the matter is worth pursuing. In New York, you’ll be hit for 75 cents a page, and the page totals can be daunting for substantial injuries. Then comes the hours of review. Assuming the matter still warrants attention after these three steps, we go to the expert(s).
4. The Expert Review: There is no case without an expert, unless you have a rare res ipsa case. And your expert has to be good, or s/he will get chewed up during a trial. If you hire an expert that is, shall we say, flexible with the standards of care and willing to go the extra mile for you, you will likely find yourself bankrupt. Bad cases don’t settle. About 70% of malpractice cases are lost at trial, and juries don’t like to bring back verdicts against doctors. The expert who reviews a bad case and tells you “no” is helping you while the expert that tells you “yes” might inadvertently be hurting you. Choose wisely.
5. The Other Expert Review: Remember that the negligence must be a substantial cause of the injuries. It doesn’t help you to win the liability phase of the trial if there is no causation. While an internist might be able to testify on the breast lump that should have been biopsied, it is the oncologist that you need for discussion of whether the length of the delay in treatment was significant. There is a good chance you need multiple experts, just to decide if a case should be brought.
This process, a form of which exists in any law office that takes such cases on a regular basis, results in substantially weeding out the bad claims.
Finally — and this is not an issue often discussed — those that advocate dismembering the malpractice system and replacing it with some type of no-fault or other system with lower barriers fail to realize that it would result in an absolute flood of matters pouring in, significantly eclipsing that which now exists. But that, I suppose, is a question for another day.