Do You Have a Medical Malpractice Case in Pennsylvania?
By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Dec 12, 2022
By Jill Roman, Esq., and Dr. Alan Goldberg
If you suffered a personal injury because of a medical error, you’re up against a lot. Medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering are significant challenges, and you shouldn’t have to deal with them alone. One option to recover your losses is to pursue a medical malpractice case.
Malpractice lawsuits are challenging and difficult to navigate. Your first step should be to contact a skilled personal injury lawyer to determine whether you have a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania.
What to Expect in a Medical Malpractice Case
Every medical malpractice lawsuit is unique, but each case goes through the same steps. As a result, you can expect certain things during each phase of your lawsuit.
What to Expect When You File a Claim
Before filing a medical malpractice claim, your attorney will need to secure a complete set of your medical records and conduct a thorough investigation. This work is necessary because before filing a claim, your lawyer needs to ensure you have the necessary evidence to prove your case. Investigating a medical malpractice case requires a deep dive into relevant medical records, hospital bills, and other material. Your lawyer will also consult with appropriate medical experts to review the treatment you received and determine whether you were harmed because of negligent medical care.
What to Expect During Your Lawsuit
After filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, your lawyer will begin seeking “discovery” from the defendant. In short, your lawyer will use litigation tools like request for records, ask questions or interrogatories and depositions – sworn out of court testimony of the defendant and other witnesses – to uncover evidence necessary to support your case. The defendant will have the opportunity to seek discovery from you as well. Litigating a successful medical malpractice claim can take some time and may require numerous meetings, depositions, and court hearings before the case settles or is ready for trial. The good news is that you won’t need to attend most of these events, even if your case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Your lawyer will appear on your behalf and update you on any developments. However, as the litigation process is often slow, even though lawyers try to keep their clients up to date, you can expect long periods of silence during your lawsuit.
In some cases, a defendant may request a defense medical examination. You will undergo an exam from a third-party doctor to assess the nature of your injuries. You may also need to appear for a deposition, which is like an interview, under oath with the defendant’s lawyer. Your lawyer will be present during a deposition and assist you in preparing for the deposition.
What to Expect After Your Lawsuit
The number one question you may be asking after your lawsuit is filed is, “How much money will I get in damages?” There is no definitive answer to this question because every case is unique and the amount recovered can vary depending on the facts regarding the case and the nature of an injury. There are a few common factors that can affect your payout. First, how significant is the injury? All things being equal, significant injuries, those that cause substantial disabilities, often have greater value than minor injuries. Disabling injuries may result in significant losses of earnings, require future medical treatment and may result in serious physical pain and emotional suffering.
Second, how strong is the evidence supporting your claim? When there is substantial evidence that a medical error occurred, and it caused an injury, settlements or awards can be greater than in cases where the evidence is weaker.
Finally, where is your lawsuit filed? Recoveries for medical negligence can vary from state to state and county to county. For instance, some states place caps on damages recoverable for medical malpractice cases. If your lawsuit is filed in one of these states, even if a jury awards a high amount, legal caps on damages may limit the amount you take home. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, there are no caps on economic or noneconomic damages. However, the state does cap punitive damages—though these are rarely awarded in medical malpractice cases.
Required Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania
Not every injury is a result of medical malpractice. Unfortunately, bad results can and do occur even in the absence of medical negligence. A medical malpractice claim will be viable only if your injury was the result of a medical error. Your claim depends on several factors, including certain legal requirements and timeliness.
What Are the Elements of a Medical Malpractice Suit
A medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania must meet four requirements:
- Proof of a provider-patient relationship that establishes a duty of care
- Proof that the provider failed to meet the appropriate standard of medical care
- Proof that the substandard care resulted in an injury
- Proof that the patient suffered financial, emotional, or physical losses because of the injury
Some medical malpractice examples include misdiagnosis, delay in diagnosis, surgical errors, brain damage, birth injury, wrongful death, and prescription drug errors.
The Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania
A statute of limitations is a law that imposes a time limit for filing medical malpractice cases. It exists because, as time goes by, crucial evidence may be lost, damaged, or forgotten, which puts defendants at risk of an unfair trial.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is normally two years. The law recognizes that in some instances of medical malpractice are not immediately obvious; it could take months for effects to show. And so, the two-year period does not begin until the injured person knew, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence could have discovered they were harmed by medical negligence. Another exception to the two year time limit in Pennsylvania comes about when a minor is injured. Children injured due to medical negligence normally have until their twentieth birthday (two years after the age of majority) to file a lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
The Process for Filing a Claim
If you think you have a medical malpractice case, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The claim investigation process can take months—from collecting evidence to securing expert testimony—which eats away at the statute of limitations.
After your consultation with a lawyer, it’s time for paperwork. You can begin with a demand letter that states your claim and a demand for compensation. But demand letters rarely result in settlement when medical malpractice is involved. If a medical provider or doctor does not agree to settle presuit, you will proceed with filing a lawsuit. A lawsuit usually begins with the filing of a “complaint.” A “complaint” is a written document with the allegations of negligence and a demand for damages. You must serve an official complaint on all the defendants who have been named in the complaint.
In Pennsylvania, in addition to the complaint initiating the medical malpractice lawsuit, your lawyer needs to file a certificate of merit. This is a document that confirms your lawyer has a written report from an appropriate medical expert stating their opinion that there exists a reasonable probability that malpractice occurred. The certificate provides legitimacy to a case and prevents medical professionals from undergoing unwarranted lawsuits.
After all these documents are in order, your lawsuit begins. Both parties will begin collecting information about the case through the discovery process. Discovery assures that both sides know exactly what the other side is claiming and how the case will be presented. It is intended to assure that there are no surprises at trial. A second objective of discovery to allow the parties to see the relative strengths and weaknesses of their position and the risk each faces of going to trial. At that point, when discovery is closed the parties may require, or the parties may agree to discuss settlement. You may negotiate a settlement at this point or proceed to trial.
Suing for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania
Your lawyer will take care of the details of your case; however, you will work together in significant ways. First off, you will provide those facts giving rise to your claim and be able to identify witnesses to those circumstances. More importantly, you will be able to tell your story – that is, explain how your life, your work, relationships with other and day to day life has been impacted by your injuries. This is critical evidence your lawyer will need to be able to prove the damages being claimed.
Who You Can Sue
You can hold any healthcare provider responsible for malpractice if you can prove their medical negligence caused or contributed to your injury. This includes doctors, nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and even midwives.
In addition, malpractice claims can be brought against pharmacists who make a medication error and nursing home staff in the case of nursing home negligence or abuse.
What Damages You Can Claim
You may receive economic damages and noneconomic damages in your medical malpractice case. These types of damages include the following:
- The cost of medical bills and ongoing medical treatment
- Lost income and benefits
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of life’s pleasures
- Permanent impairment or disability
- Funeral costs (for wrongful death cases)
It is rare but sometimes jury’s are asked to award punitive damages. The court awards these damages not to compensate you for losses, but to punish defendants for malicious or reckless acts. In a medical malpractice case, this may include unusual situations such as a medical provider intentionally causing harm.
What a Medical Malpractice Claim Will Cost
Normally, filing a claim will not require an out-of-pocket investment from the plaintiff. Initial consultations with lawyers are generally free. In addition, most lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you agree to reimburse litigation costs and pay the lawyer a percentage of the recovery if and when the case successfully resolves. In short, a medical malpractice attorney doesn’t normally get paid unless you get paid.
The defendant may not have to pay money out-of-pocket either—malpractice insurance will normally cover a settlement or judgment. A hospital’s insurance may also help cover the legal fees and the settlement money.
Settling Medical Malpractice Cases in Pennsylvania
Most medical malpractice claims never make it to trial. When there is substantial evidence of malpractice, and the case involves serious injuries, plaintiffs and defendants will often agree to a settlement without involving a jury.
How Long it Takes to Reach a Settlement
A settlement can involve a long negotiation between lawyers and insurance companies. Insurance companies will collect and review their own evidence before deciding to settle. The timeline depends on the complexity of the case; simple claims may resolve in a few months while more complicated ones could take several years. On average, you can expect it to take about two years.
Average Medical Malpractice Settlement
Pennsylvania medical malpractice cases on average settle for $177,320, according to the National Library of Medicine. But medical malpractices claims can and often do settle for much higher sums, depending on the facts and the nature of the injuries. The parties in a medical malpractice case do not need to settle. If a case does not settle, it is normally resolved by a jury. Jury verdicts can be materially higher than settlement offers, but they come with risk. Going to trial introduces the risk of losing the case and walking away with nothing. In fact, the National Library of Medicine also reports that physicians win between 80 and 90 percent of jury trials.
Averages can be a good indicator of what to expect from your own medical malpractice lawsuit. However, each case is entirely unique; you may receive much more or less in your settlement. Your lawyer will always work to secure you the highest settlement possible.
Some factors that lead to a higher settlement include strong evidence, beginning proceedings quickly, and suing multiple defendants. In fact, one injury case against multiple defendants in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, settled for $15 million.
File Your Medical Malpractice Case Today
If you believe you have a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania, don’t delay reaching out to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. In many cases, you won’t have long to make your claim before the statute of limitations runs out.
If you have a question about your medical malpractice case or would like a consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact the attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth. You can call us at (888) 560-7189, or reach out to us on our website.
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.