How Long Do Medical Malpractice Cases Take?
Cohen, Placitella & Roth
Feb 3, 2023
If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to medical malpractice, you probably have a lot of questions. One of the most common questions that our clients ask us is: “How long do medical malpractice cases take?” There is no single correct answer to this question since every case and every court is different. Your medical malpractice suit may lead to a speedy trial, or it could take years to get to trial.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s no way to estimate how long your case will take!
Every medical malpractice lawsuit is unique and complex. That’s why it’s so critical to consult with an expert attorney as soon as you can. By meeting with a personal injury lawyer at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, you can learn more about your specific case, enabling you to make an informed decision on your next steps.
Types of Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical malpractice lawsuits are complicated, fact specific, and come in many forms. One of the most common types of malpractice is misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a harmful condition. This occurs when a healthcare provider’s negligent or untimely diagnosis harms you or someone you love. A misdiagnosis can delay proper treatment for a progressive disease or lead to unnecessary treatment.
Another common claim in a malpractice lawsuit is for a birth injury. A birth injury is an injury sustained during birth that can have a lifelong and catastrophic impact on the child and the child’s family. Common birth injuries can include broken bones, brain damage, and birth asphyxia.
Other forms of medical malpractice include:
- A medical device error
- An anesthesia error
- Surgical injury
- Institutional malpractice
If it seems like there are diverse categories of medical error, you’re right! Doctors, nurses, and hospital systems take pains to prevent malpractice—but sometimes, mistakes occur.
One famous example of medical malpractice happened in 1985. It involved the wrongful death of a photographer in Miami. His anesthesiologist mistakenly injected him with a chemical preservative, leaving him brain dead. In 2007, a 35-year-old woman named Darrie Eason had a double mastectomy to treat breast cancer when it turned out that she didn’t have cancer at all: there had been an error in her lab results. She sued her hospital and won $2.5 million in compensatory damages.
Medical malpractice law doesn’t only cover actions by an individual medical provider. In cases of institutional malpractice, an entire facility is at fault. Such was the case in 2003 when surgeons at Duke University performed a heart and lung transplant on a 17-year-old girl named Jessica Santillan without first confirming that the donor organs were a match for her blood type. A series of hospital miscommunications and assumptions led to Santillan’s death.
Not all cases of malpractice lead to wrongful death. If you or someone you love has suffered harm due to a medical error, you should be aware of your options as early as possible.
Process of a Medical Malpractice Suit
Since the umbrella of malpractice covers so many kinds of error, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s no typical malpractice case. A case of medical negligence by a major hospital system will look vastly different from a misdiagnosis in a small clinic. Add in the state-by-state differences in medical malpractice statutes and law and there’s even more variety. Nevertheless, there are some elements of medical malpractice lawsuits that are always similar, regardless of what your case looks like.
The first step in a malpractice case is to engage a medical malpractice attorney. Many personal injury law firms, including CPR Law, will offer a free consultation. Before choosing a lawyer or law firm, find out how much this medical malpractice lawyer knows about medicine. Does the firm have relationships with doctors and experts? Find out what experience the office has taking cases to trial and what resources the law firm has at its disposal when it comes to investigating and pursuing your case. You must be comfortable with your lawyer.
After retaining an attorney, your attorney will review your medical records to determine what your next steps will look like. In addition to providing your attorney with complete medical records, may sure you also provide any relevant medical bills for treatment of your injuries and documentation of other losses say, for instance, medical appliances, therapies and of course any earnings loss as well.
If you choose to file a lawsuit, the next stage of the process is called discovery. This process includes submitting requests for medical records and other documents and records, questioning all involved parties and witnesses under oath in what is called a deposition, and finding and interviewing expert witnesses who will offer opinions that the care received was negligent and caused harm will be based. After completion of discovery and the exchange of expert opinions outlining your claim and the defendant’s outlining why the care was appropriate, you may engage in settlement negotiations during which the doctor or hospital may present you with an offer for a settlement. A good medical malpractice lawyer will be honest with you about your odds of winning the case at trial, but the choice to accept the settlement, negotiate, or keep fighting in court is up to you.
If you continue with a trial, your lawyer will present the entire story of how you were harmed, why it was the result of negligent treatment and how it has impacted your life and that of your family. Of course you will be expected to testify at trial. If the jury finds in your favor, the defendant may choose to appeal the case to a higher court. If not, the last phase of a successful medical malpractice claim is collecting your payment.
Typical Timeline of a Medical Malpractice Claim
There is no hard-and-fast timeline for medical malpractice cases. Every case is different. Its length can be determined by any number of variables, from the resources available to the defendant to the jurisdiction the case is in. On average, a medical malpractice case will take about two to five years to be completed. In more complex cases, and in cases with the chance for a higher settlement, expect the process to take longer.
A few of the factors that can influence the timeline of your case are:
- The timing and location of the breach of care
- The complexity of medical issues, number of parties and witnesses and amount of discovery necessary
- The rules and procedures of the court where you’ve brought suit; some courts have efficient case management schedules while others have backlogs that delay trial
When filing a medical malpractice claim, it is critical to act quickly. Each state has a statute of limitations on malpractice cases, and the clock generally starts from the time you first discover that you were harmed. In some states, you have up to five years to file a claim; in others, you may have only one or two years. To make it even more complicated, some states begin the countdown at the moment of injury rather than the time you discover it.
The bulk of a medical malpractice case is spent in the pre-trial process. This involves investigating the facts of the case, acquiring and reviewing medical record and identifying and working with expert witnesses to evaluate the case. Again it could take several years from the first meeting with a lawyer to complete until discovery is completed to get a case to trial. And while each case is unique, the average length of a medical malpractice trial (if your case goes to trial) is about one to three weeks.
Factors that Can Extend a Medical Malpractice Case
We have already established that there are a lot of elements that impact the length of your malpractice case. The more complex your case is, and the more pre-existing risk factors are involved, the longer your case will take to finish. Occasionally, state and county malpractice laws may contradict each other, or a case may take place in more than one state.
Other factors that may extend the length of your malpractice case include:
- Novel or rare medical issues
- Adding multiple expert witnesses
- Suing multiple defendants (for instance, multiple doctors from a medical group)
- Complicated or novel legal problems
Every malpractice trial requires intensive medical research, investigation and at least one expert witness. This makes medical malpractice one of the most complex lawsuits to file, and one of the lengthiest to conclude.
In some cases, the defendant in your case will offer you a settlement. Sometimes, accepting a malpractice settlement can be a good option. The two primary benefits of accepting a settlement are that the case is resolved faster, and you have certainty – you eliminate the risk of an adverse jury verdict or, even if you win at trial, eliminates the delay that results when a defendant files an appeal. Ultimately, the choice between accepting a settlement and fighting in court is a highly personal one, and a good medical malpractice lawyer can be instrumental when it comes to helping you make that choice.
In addition, not all cases of medical error and personal injury will meet the legal definition of malpractice. A good personal injury attorney will help you navigate the system and make an informed decision as to whether filing a lawsuit is a worthwhile use of your resources.
Contact Cohen, Placitella & Roth for Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Expertise
Proving a case of medical malpractice requires both perseverance and experience, and the law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth are proud to bring both of these to every case we litigate. If you or someone you love has suffered an injury due to malpractice or medical negligence, no matter how minor, you deserve to know your rights and make an informed decision. We also have highly trained doctors on staff, so with us, you will get both legal and medical expertise.
If you have a question, or would like a consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call at (888) 560-7189 to speak with one of our talented medical malpractice attorneys today.
Cohen, Placitella & Roth Law Offices take on—and win—the fights that others think can’t be won. Our team of lawyers has earned a distinguished reputation for achieving life-changing outcomes by combining decades of experience, tenacity and fresh strategic perspectives to each case we undertake. We champion and seek justice for our clients guided by a shared goal of doing what’s right and making a positive lasting impact on their lives.