Reaching a Settlement or Litigating for a Verdict, How do You Decide?
Medical malpractice cases are complicated. They present a multitude of questions, procedural requirements, legal hurdles, and ultimately, decisions by both sides. When you have been a victim of medical malpractice in New Jersey, one of your most significant decisions over the course of the case, or perhaps the most critical choice you need to make, is whether to reach a settlement or take the case to trial. Fortunately, you do not have to face this challenging process alone. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can be your greatest resource when evaluating the strength of your case, strongly supporting your claim for compensation, and considering whether to settle or pursue a verdict through trial litigation. With that being said, there are some key factors that influence whether a medical malpractice lawsuit can and should be settled or proceed to trial in court.
Do Most Medical Malpractice Cases Settle?
First and foremost, it is important to note that most malpractice lawsuits settle before trial. In other words, the parties and their attorneys reach a mutually agreed upon settlement amount during pretrial negotiations. However, if a plaintiff’s case has a particularly strong likelihood of being successful through trial litigation, the damages award is more likely to be higher than the amount the defendant is offering, the defendant or defendants are staunchly opposed to settling the case, or there are specific legal issues that require complex arguments in court and a judge’s decision, then a trial may be the best, or perhaps the only, avenue to pursue.
What does it Take to Have a Case?
At the most basic level, you need negligence, damages, and a causal link between the two. These are the requirements for a valid medical malpractice lawsuit. In addition to the malpractice evaluation are the many rules and laws that apply when an injured person sues a licensed medical doctor, nurse, lab technician, EMT, physician assistant, hospital, clinic, or nursing care facility. Provided you have the three elements of the claim satisfied, you need to address the additional factor of timing.
Specifically, a plaintiff who claims they received inadequate care that injured them must file their claim against the negligent party within a specific timeframe, the statute of limitations. In New Jersey, this is generally two years from the date of injury or discovery of the malpractice. For infants injured at birth, the time extends to filing a birth injury lawsuit by their 13th birthday. Otherwise, minor victims in pediatric malpractice cases have until they reach 18-years-old for the two-year statute of limitations to begin running.
This calculation alone can be tricky, as a medical error may not appear right away. For example, an incorrect diagnosis may not be apparent until the patient goes to another doctor to fix the damage and discovers their previous doctor misdiagnosed their ailment, treated them for the wrong condition, or failed to diagnose and treat them altogether. Filing a lawsuit before the statute of limitations preserves the claim but starts other deadlines, like serving the defendants with the lawsuit. Your medical malpractice attorney can help you assess the timing of your case and expediently get the case into suit to ensure you don’t lose your opportunity to sue entirely.
What is Involved if You Go to Trial?
Proving malpractice at trial can be time-consuming, expensive, and extremely challenging, particularly for general practice attorneys and personal injury attorneys who don’t exclusively focus on medical malpractice litigation. For this reason, it is highly advisable to enlist a medical malpractice lawyer who handles these complex lawsuits on a regular basis. At trial, the debate over malpractice can quickly become a deep dive into medical records and information, a battle of competing medical experts, and a standoff among competing theories as both sides seek to substantiate their version of what happened.
The defendant or defendants use their experts to try to refute the claim of malpractice, while the plaintiff employs their experts and extensive evidence to establish the opposite. In addition to proving malpractice, the plaintiff needs to show true damages, meaning the totality of their losses resulting from their injuries. This requires extensive preparation, which begins before the case even leads to a lawsuit.
What Happens before a Case Goes to Trial?
In the earliest stages of the process, medical malpractice attorneys and their clients gather documentary evidence to support the malpractice claim. This includes all of the client’s medical records, including those from hospitals, doctors, therapists, pharmacies, laboratories, and more. Additional evidence of economic losses is also a must, such as missed work due to injury, attending doctor appointments, cost of procedures, and the like. If the plaintiff suffered psychological damage from the malpractice incident, records supporting this from psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists may also be necessary.
Other evidence can show that the injuries suffered require future treatment, adaptations to work and living spaces, transportation expenses, and more. The calculation of those future costs likewise matter. For instance, if an injury caused a shortened lifespan or permanent disability, the plaintiff needs evidence substantiating this and associated consequences, such as the inability to maintain employment in their profession. Ultimately, damages include the totality of past, present, and future losses due to medical malpractice. If the case ends in a jury decision, the jury’s members examine all of these elements to arrive at an appropriate damages award when they decide in favor of the plaintiff.
Pros and Cons of Taking a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit to Trial
The cost, lengthy amount of time, and uncertainty of the outcome are some of the key disadvantages to malpractice litigation. Crowded court calendars and pre-trial conferences, discovery, and pre-trial motions can drag out the life of a lawsuit to a year or more. In some cases, the advantages of reaching a favorable settlement prevail when faced with these realities and the possibility of receiving nothing at all.
However, experienced attorneys in medical malpractice litigation know that a jury verdict after a trial can be far more substantial than a settlement. When a jury returns a verdict for the plaintiff, this includes awarding the plaintiff damages for their economic losses and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. In addition, they may award punitive damages if they find the defendant was grossly negligent or acted with wanton disregard for the plaintiff’s safety and wellbeing.
While medical costs and lost wages are concrete numbers, pain and suffering awards have no tangible calculator. A sympathetic jury can award the plaintiff far more in damages than the defendant ever offers or considers agreeing to. This can be especially true for cases involving injured children and babies, whose entire lives have been unalterably marred by the consequences of substandard medical care. Conversely, there is no guarantee when taking a case to trial, and effective settlement negotiations can often yield a high amount of compensation for the victim’s damages in a shorter period of time.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Reaching a Settlement in a Medical Malpractice Case
Time can be both an advantage and disadvantage for settlement, but a clear advantage is a much earlier resolution than waiting until after a trial, which could take months to years to conclude. In addition, there is certainty attached to a settlement that means you are going to obtain compensation. Much of the same evidence and support for the claim is utilized when attempting to settle a case as well. In other words, your attorney provides the defendant with reasons for the claim, the liability, and the damages resulting from medical negligence, including financial damages and pain and suffering due to your injuries.
In the negotiation, these are not simply numbers pulled out of the air. First, the plaintiff provides evidence of what they could prove at trial and what they could show are losses due to the injury. Then, the defendant commonly objects to the claimed costs as unrelated to the injury, inflated, or otherwise too sizable. Even before such time, they may not be open to reaching a settlement agreement at all, or offer an amount that is simply unreasonable or entirely insufficient when considering the scope and extent of the injuries and resulting damages.
When faced with the challenges of settlement negotiations in a medical malpractice case, you want an attorney who has spent their career successfully navigating the pitfalls, pain points, and common defense tactics used during these ongoing proceedings. With experience and skill, an aggressive malpractice lawyer remains unflinching in the face of intimidation, reluctance, or attempts to minimize the strength and validity of your claim. With a zealous advocate, you can achieve a settlement that puts you and your family on a positive road to recovery, financially providing for your needs now and in the years to come.
Considering How to Handle Your Medical Malpractice Claim in NJ? Don’t do it Alone
No two cases of medical malpractice are alike. Each requires individual analysis based on the merits, the situation, and the multitude of factors that make it unique. Seeking help from an experienced New Jersey medical malpractice attorney to assess your case and strategize with you about how best to secure compensation is the first step toward the financial recovery you deserve. Fronzuto Law Group is here for you. Contact us at (973)-435-4551 for immediate assistance. Your journey begins with a free consultation.