Medical Malpractice and Voluntary Arbitration
After researching the procedure for medical malpractice claims one can easily find that the time, effort and expense of bringing these cases is quite substantial. There is the mandatory pre-suit notice and investigation period that requires months to complete before a lawsuit can even be filed, and then comes the period where the hospital or physician uses all legal maneuvers available to delay the trial as long as possible. At the end, injured parties frequently wait years to see a judge and jury, which can be financially and emotionally devastating. One man from South Florida recently won a malpractice case against a hospital for negligent care that resulted in the amputation of his leg. However, the jury award was much less than he wanted, and failed to cover past medical expenses, let alone any future care he may need.
One option to the lengthy trial process that will bring faster resolution for less money is arbitration. This alternative dispute resolution procedure puts three arbiters in place of the judge and jury to decide the merits of a medical malpractice claim. While there are drawbacks to this option (e.g., lower damage awards, limitations on the presentation of evidence and limited appeal), it may be a good choice for injured parties looking for closure and a more predictable outcome.
Initiating the Arbitration Process
Once the pre-suit notice is sent by an injured party to a healthcare provider alleging medical malpractice, either party has the option to offer to have damages decided by an arbitration panel. While participation in the process is voluntary, the panel’s decision is binding, and participation by the healthcare provider requires it concede liability since the arbiters are only authorized to calculate the damage amount. Thus, the injured party will get some amount of money. The party who receives the offer for arbitration has 30 days to accept or reject it, but the healthcare provider is not obligated to respond until the 90-day investigatory period to assess the merit of the claim passes.
The arbitration panel has three arbiters: one chosen by the defendant, one chosen by the injured party, and an administrative law judge selected by the state agency that regulates administrative hearings. Opting to arbitrate means the injured party no longer has the right to sue the healthcare provider, so consulting with an lawyer about this decision is extremely important. Also, note that this is a legal proceeding with important implications, albeit less formal, so the services of a medical malpractice lawyer are still needed to fully participate in the proceedings.
Deciding to Reject Arbitration Offer
The effects of rejecting an arbitration offer depend upon the party. If the healthcare provider rejects the offer and the injured party proves medical malpractice occurs at a jury trial, the injured party is entitled to interest and lawyer’s fees up to 25 percent of the damages award. If the injured party decides to decline arbitration, awards for pain and suffering are limited to $350,000 per claim, which is substantially less than the maximum amount allowed if arbitration is not offered but still more than the arbitration is permitted to award.
Restrictions on damage awards for pain and suffering from medical malpractice arbitration panels are notable, and limit the panel to $250,000 per incident, subject to reduction for an injured party’s ability to enjoy life. For example, if the injured party’s capacity to enjoy life was reduced by 40 percent, he/she would be entitled to $150,000 for pain and suffering. In addition, punitive damage awards are not available at all, but the healthcare provider does have to pay costs and lawyer’s fees up to 15 percent of the damage award and all costs for the arbitration proceedings. Once the panel announces the amount of damages, the healthcare provider has 20 days to pay, and if it remains unpaid after 90 days, 18 percent interest is assessed and accrues until satisfied.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you are the victim of a negligent doctor, a medical malpractice lawyer can help you get compensation for your injuries. These are complex cases that require lawyers experienced with these issues to most effectively present the information to juries. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understands how overwhelming these injuries can be, and will fight to hold the doctor accountable. Contact the office for a free consultation.