Physicians in any specialty, from pediatrics to general surgery, face the risk of a lawsuit that alleges medical malpractice. We’re still only human, and mistakes happen.
For medical professionals, though, such mistakes could have far-reaching consequences that lead to a date in court. Depending on your situation, a claim could be no more pesky than a fly on the shoulder or it could feel more like an anvil over your head.
Doctors in large hospitals, for example, face the threat of a medical malpractice suit fairly often, though many of them turn out to be unfounded and dismissed. Those physicians may depend on a team of attorneys kept on retainer who have been through the process many times before.
But even renowned surgeons at major hospitals could face potentially career-ending malpractice litigation. And the same goes for small family practice doctors. Even if the case is a fraud, a patient who builds a strong case could turn your world upside down.
If you’ve been served with a medical malpractice suit, rest assured there is light at the end of the tunnel, but the journey can be long. Here’s a general outline of what’s to come.
Find A Good Attorney
This is the first and by far the most crucial step. Whatever you do, don’t try to represent yourself in court. Medical malpractice suits are among the most serious and complex actions that can occur in court, so having a qualified and experienced attorney in your corner will be vital to your survival.
Start by getting a legal representative in your state. If you live in New York, for example, an attorney in Virginia won’t do you much good. Certain laws and restrictions will apply that only an attorney in your state will understand and be licensed to handle.
Try to obtain several consultations for highly recommended attorneys in your state. Your budget will likely determine the lawyer you can afford, but don’t let it prevent you from hiring someone who will fight for you and treat you fairly along the way.
The prosecuting attorney will have interviewed his or her client and gathered as much information as possible about the plaintiff’s condition and the role you allegedly played in it. Your attorney will want to do the same with you, so provide as much background and evidence to support your case as you can.
If you’re innocent, gather evidence from your files, including transcripts, imaging, physician’s notes, and any other information, that could support your case.
Your attorney is bound by law to keep your client’s information private, but if you’re concerned about HIPAA compliance, speak with your compliance coordinator to get guidance on the proper procedure.
Go Through the Depositions
In many cases, you’ll be asked to undergo a deposition. The term may sound daunting, and the event can be confusing to anyone who hasn’t done it before.
A deposition is basically a pre-trial run: an opportunity for both the prosecuting and defense counsel to question you, other witnesses, and experts before going into proper court. The deposition is often used to determine whether the case is solid enough to be taken to court.
It’s also an opportunity for both sides to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. It might sound frightening, but it’s a great chance to gather more information and prepare for the confrontation in court.
Your attorney will help you to make the most of the deposition, so you shouldn’t be worried.
Consider a Settlement
If the claims against you have a certain amount of validity, your attorney will probably recommend a settlement. In fact, more than 90 percent of medical malpractice cases will settle outside of court, according to Lawfirms.com.
The process of taking a case to court is extremely expensive and time-consuming, so a settlement is often a more affordable and efficient option. That being said, if you’re completely innocent of the claims against you, it’s understandable if you feel ethically obligated to fight in court.
The case might also continue to push for a trial if the prosecuting side believes it has a good chance of winning, whether rightly or wrongly, and their team hopes for a larger settlement. In that case, you don’t have much control over whether you can keep the matter out of a courtroom.
The best you can do is to gather information in support of your cause and general job performance. These will be key in minimizing the settlement and protecting your financial assets and professional reputation.
Life After Malpractice
Being sued could be a small blip in your career, or a life-altering ordeal. If your reputation and finances become damaged beyond repair, you might decide it’s time to retire.
Many physicians have found it possible to continue practicing, however, albeit with a more limited methodology. They keep an attorney on retainer, perform procedures with much greater care, and are circumspect about their patient relationships.
All you can do is try to move past it and salvage whatever you can of your career. The outcome the case doesn’t necessarily define you forever, and it shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love.