In personal injury law, a malpractice settlement can sometimes be reached in connection with a medical malpractice claim. Instead of a judge deciding the amount to be paid for the victim’s injuries, the plaintiff and defendant will decide or “settle” upon the amount and any other remedies available.
This can happen either before or after the lawsuit actually commences. A malpractice settlement is often considered very favorable since a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a complex process that takes a long time to conclude. Other types of malpractice, such as dental malpractice and attorney malpractice, can also be settled.
What Are the Reasons for a Malpractice Settlement?
The following are some reasons why malpractice settlements are more popular than litigation:
- The court process can be streamlined
- Since the parties themselves agree on the amount of monetary damages, the award can often be more accurate
- Settlement may be necessary, for instance, if certain facts arise during litigation
- A settlement can prevent a party from having a record of legal liability (although there may be a settlement record).
- Patient-health care professional relationships can be preserved this way
On the other hand, personal injury settlements may not always be a viable option, especially if the parties are unwilling to reach an agreement on the facts or on the amounts being discussed. If a factual or medical malpractice law dispute arises, litigation can help resolve the issue.
Why Is the Limit for a Medical Malpractice Settlement?
One major issue to consider during a malpractice settlement is that many states place limits on malpractice awards. This means that during the settlement negotiations, the liable party will likely not make any offers above the legal limit amount. It is important for victims to be aware of this, as it can limit the amount they can receive in settlements.
Moreover, any malpractice claim may actually involve many different liable parties. Therefore, determining liability can be difficult, which is why many parties choose litigation over a settlement to determine who is responsible for which damages. In the event that the parties are unable to agree on liability, they may seek the opinion of an expert in court.
Is There an Average Settlement for Medical Malpractice Claims?
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, medical malpractice lawsuits paid an average of $348,065 in 2018, and plaintiffs collectively received more than $4 billion. Settlements accounted for 96.5 percent of payouts, while court judgments accounted for 3.5 percent.
Complaints in Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical errors related to diagnoses accounted for 34.1% of medical malpractice actions, making them the most common. Malpractice related to surgical procedures accounted for 21.4 percent of claims, while malpractice related to improper treatment accounted for 21.1 percent.
One study about medical malpractice lawsuit rates in the U.S. from 1992 to 2014 also found that surgical errors, treatment-related errors, and misdiagnoses are the leading causes of lawsuits.
In terms of damages, 12.3 percent of claims resulted in quadriplegia, brain damage, and other injuries that require lifelong care, 18.7 percent resulted in catastrophic permanent injuries, and 29.7 percent resulted in fatalities. Furthermore, the average payout for claims that resulted in death, which is about $380,300, isn’t as high as those resulting in brain damage, which can reach up to $960,000.
What Is the Value of My Medical Malpractice Claim?
It is likely that if you believe you have a valid claim, you are wondering about the potential value of your claim.
Damages are typically classified as follows by lawyers:
- Special or economic damages are based on calculable financial losses.
- Non-economic, general, or pain and suffering damages which are not clearly calculable.
Patients can also seek punitive damages if the doctor’s actions were malicious or intentional or if the doctor knew or should have known that their actions would harm them.
In order to obtain damages through a malpractice claim, you must prove the malpractice actually occurred, as follows:
- The doctor’s negligence caused your damages
- There is no other way to resolve the damages caused by the malpractice
- Before the malpractice incident, you didn’t have any injuries
How to Determine Your Special Damages
Special damages are:
- Loss of earnings
- Costs associated with medical care
- An inability to earn a living
- The loss of other quantifiable financial assets
Your medical expenses include all bills you have incurred due to your injuries, as well as the costs you will reasonably incur in the future if you need medical treatment. In malpractice cases, future medical bills are usually high.
Due to the malpractice incident that caused your injuries, you have lost or stand to lose earnings. Included are employment benefits you lost, such as paid leaves, health insurance, pension contributions, etc. You can easily calculate your past lost wages by adding all the earnings and benefits you missed due to your injury.
In contrast, calculating your future lost earnings and earning capacity will be more difficult. Due to this, your lawyer will need the assistance of a financial expert in order to present these numbers to the jury accurately. For example, let’s say that you were earning $50,000 yearly before the medical malpractice incident. Despite your recovery, you are only able to work part-time and earn $25,000 per year.
This means you will lose $25,000 a year for the rest of your life, or more accurately, your work-life expectancy. A worker’s work-life expectancy is a calculation based on federal statistics that calculates how long they are likely to work based on their age, race, and gender, among other factors. Calculating this might seem simple, but it becomes more complicated when you try to predict what $25,000 a year will be worth in the future.
How to Determine Your General Damages
It is not exactly easy to calculate pain and suffering or general damages. You can’t rely on a chart to show the jury how much pain and suffering you have experienced (or are still experiencing) because of your injuries. Thus, judges typically instruct jurors to place themselves in the injured patient’s shoes and use their experience, background, and common sense when determining awards for pain and suffering.
Damages for pain and suffering include both mental and physical suffering, such as:
- Physical pain that you experience
- Having a permanent injury or disability, scarring, or disfigurement causes you pain and suffering
- The suffering of mental health conditions such as emotional distress, mental anguish, anger, fear, humiliation, and/or sleep disorders.
- Companionship or consortium lost
Depression, mood swings, aggressive anger, chronic fatigue, eating disorders, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, and post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause mental pain and suffering.
It is imperative that you do not shortchange yourself when it comes to intangible losses, as they are often a significant part of a medical malpractice settlement or award. Your lawyer will need to understand all the effects your injuries caused you so they can properly present the losses to the insurance company.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Malpractice Settlement?
Although settlement often occurs outside the formal court process, it is usually necessary to obtain a personal injury lawyer for help with the process. During negotiations, your lawyer can help you obtain the most favorable outcome for your malpractice injuries. If you have any questions or concerns, your lawyer will be able to provide you with legal advice.