Alternative Resolution Methods and Settlement in Medical Malpractice
Stories about instances of alleged medical malpractice that appear in the news usually involve epic court battles that take years to resolve before a family or former patient finally gets a decision from a jury about whether the doctor is liable. While it is true that medical malpractice cases take longer to work through the court system because of the complexities involved, there are other forums to resolve these cases that occur privately. These alternative resolution options allow the injured parties to resolve their cases much more quickly and at a lower cost. The downside to these procedures is that the monetary awards are typically much lower than those a jury would award. So, parties must decide if a quicker resolution and payment outweigh waiting the many years that usually pass before a medical malpractice case goes to trial.
Over 160 women in the Jacksonville area are in different phases of the medical malpractice lawsuit process as they seek to hold two plastic surgeons responsible for botched breast-related surgeries that left the women with various types of disfigurement and constant pain. An overview of the other methods of resolving medical malpractice cases will be discussed below, as well as requirements related to settlement offers.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Options
The parties to a medical malpractice lawsuit have the option of entering into a voluntary process called arbitration. Arbitration involves an independent adjudicator, i.e., not a person connected with the court, deciding the outcome of the case. In the context of medical malpractice cases, the parties can agree to allow arbitrators to decide damages. This is the only issue the arbitrator is permitted to consider, and the parties are bound by the decision. This means the party claiming negligence cannot later sue the defendant in court for the injury. Typically, a party will offer this option after the initial investigation shows there is a reasonable claim for negligence. It is important to note the following: First, arbitration is voluntary, and the claimant can refuse to consent, and instead, continue with the case to trial. Second, an arbitrator cannot award punitive damages, so the injured party is limited to recovery for medical expenses, lost wages/earning capacity, and/or loss of enjoyment of life. This process is certainly faster and cheaper, but the potential payoff over a jury trial is much lower. Further, the information presented at arbitration is confidential, so no one else will know about the doctor’s substandard care.
Mandatory Mediation and Settlement
In addition to arbitration, all medical malpractice claims must be taken to mediation within 120 days of when the lawsuit was filed, if the parties do not agree to arbitration. Mediation is not necessarily aiming to determine fault, which is the normal purpose of arbitration, but to help the parties move towards settling the case. Assuming that mediation does not produce an agreement between the parties, everyone involved with the case (lawyers, parties, and individuals with authority to settle the case) must attend a settlement conference before a judge at least three weeks before the trial is set to begin. Similar to the other forums available to resolve the case, any settlement will likely be much lower than a jury award because most defendants will not agree to pay punitive damages, but settling a case does guarantee the injured party will receive some compensation. A jury verdict in the party’s favor is not entirely predictable.
Get Legal Advice
If you were injured by a doctor’s negligent care, you need to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer to find out if you have a legal claim that warrants filing a lawsuit. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado will evaluate your case and let you know the options you have. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.