Do Most Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Cases End in Settlement?

  • March 22, 2022
  • Blog

Medical malpractice is a frightening term. Everyone who goes into the care of a medical professional—whether it is a doctor, surgeon, dentist, optometrist, allergist… the list goes on!—wants to know that they are being taken care of to the best of that professional’s ability. After all, you, as the patient, are the customer! You’re paying (either out of pocket or through your insurance) for the doctor to care for you, and you deserve the highest quality of treatment. 

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However, because we live in a broken world with broken people, things don’t often go the way that they should. Doctors let things slip through the cracks, they prescribe off-label medications which could cause serious side effects, they push procedures or surgeries for the benefit of their own schedules, or they practice in areas that are not their area of expertise. Although every healthcare professional takes the Hippocratic Oath (“First, do no harm”), there are many out there who are knowingly doing harm each day. 

And this is what medical malpractice is. It’s when a doctor or medical professional negligently gives care that is not up to standard, and things go south. Someone could have a worsened condition, a new injury, a permanent condition, or even death because of the doctor’s wrongdoing or medical negligence. 

When this happens, it’s enraging for the victim and their family members. You might feel that you are up against a brick wall fighting against an “educated professional” and the medical system as a whole. But there is hope and help out there. Experienced lawyers, like the ones at Mattiacci Law in Pennsylvania, can help you or your family member bring about a medical negligence case that could recover damages caused by the negligent doctor. 

Settling or Going to Trial in Pennsylvania

When a legal case is brought forward, whether it is for medical negligence or something else, there are usually two options: settling or going to trial. There are risks and benefits to each one. When you settle a case, things happen much more quickly, but you might not recover as much in damages as you would if a case went to trial. Settling is often the way that a defendant can say, “Here’s the amount of money you’re asking for; now things can just go away and there won’t be any publicity around it.” This is good for medical professionals who don’t want others knowing that they haven’t been practicing in the best way they could. 

Going to trial is lengthy, and often expensive (for both the defendant and the plaintiff). It also often comes with more people knowing about the case than in a settled situation. However, a trial might get a defendant more in recovered damages than settling would. But the defendant also runs the risk of not getting anything, because the burden of proof is always on them. 

Arbitration is another option in Pennsylvania. This is sort of an “in-between” option, where both the plaintiff and the defendant and their respective legal teams take their case through a dispute resolution process. This happens outside of court, but others hear the case and help find a decision that both parties can live with. The decision of an arbitration attorney is legally binding, however, so if this is the path that a case has to take, there aren’t any other options afterward. Arbitration isn’t a common practice with medical malpractice suits, and usually only happens if there was an arbitration clause in the paperwork that a patient signed before treatment or surgery. If arbitration is the option, it’s of utmost importance to have a lawyer who has a great deal of experience in this area. 

In Pennsylvania, you can settle your medical malpractice suit at any time, even if you’ve already filed a formal lawsuit. It can be pulled if you decide to settle. You can settle beforehand, too, which means the larger courts never have to get involved at all. When a settlement happens, you’ll receive the damage amount that was agreed upon in negotiations. This amount is decided with the help of attorneys from both sides, who will assist in the compilation of all documents, bills, affidavits, research information, and pain and suffering statements. If during these negotiations, a verdict cannot be reached that is acceptable for both parties (or it cannot be reached through arbitration), the next option is to go to trial. 

The Odds Of Medical Malpractice Cases in Pennsylvania

Most medical malpractice cases that are brought forward in Pennsylvania settle out of court. Actually, only 7% of cases end up going to trial. In fact, the number of cases that have even been brought forward over the last couple of years has dropped significantly, by about 46%. 

In Pennsylvania, the majority of medical malpractice cases that go to trial end in the doctor winning the case—over 70%, actually. Every single jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, unfortunately, has the doctors on the winning side. This makes it highly beneficial for a plaintiff to choose settlement unless their lawyer thinks that they have an open-and-shut case. 

The reason for that unfortunate side of the coin is that doctors are backed by plenty of other doctors and professionals who can spin things to their side if a case goes to trial. No other medical professional wants to put their colleague in a bad light, and the defendant’s lawyers will have abundant resources to be able to find many witnesses who can attest to the doctor doing things correctly, in almost any situation. 

Overall, in our country research has found that 80−90% of trial cases are decided in favor of the doctor when the evidence against them is weak. If the evidence is middle-of-the-road, they still win about 70% of cases, and even if the proof is strong that they deliberately or knowingly caused harm, they still win about half of trial cases. 

In bench trials, where the parties decided against a settlement but there wasn’t a jury, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania have a little bit of a better chance of winning—odds are about 60%. 

Certain types of trials, however, are shown to be more likely than others to go toward the side of the plaintiff. For victims filing for prescription drug errors, 27% said that they received damages. In all total plaintiff wins, 13% were for surgical errors, and only 5% of cases that went to trial won when bringing cases forward for mistakes in treatment or diagnoses. 

Some plaintiffs want to go to trial no matter the circumstances, and that is always their right. No one has to accept a settlement case, even if they are going against the advice of their legal team. Sometimes, the victim’s attorneys aren’t sure how to value a case and they think that going to trial will be the best way to get the plaintiff an acceptable sum for damages. 

Cases can also go to trial if a doctor is fighting a hard fight, too (similar to how some plaintiffs do), and they don’t want to settle because they “know” they were in the right. Insurance companies can also decide whether cases are muddled or gray and try to swing a case for going to trial, as well.  

Final Thoughts

No matter which way you want a medical malpractice case to turn out, you need an experienced lawyer who will work your case to its fullest potential. The Pennsylvanian professionals at Mattiacci Law Firm will handle your medical malpractice case with determination, understanding, and empathy. 

Settling your case out of court might seem like the easy way out. However, if you first choose to settle and the amount given to you is too low, you can always go to trial. Your lawyers can help you decide if the amount of damages you were offered is too low or if it is normal for a case like yours, or—in the rare case—if it is higher than average. Then you will be able to make an informed decision on the risks of going to trial. 

Filing a medical malpractice suit and taking it to trial is a difficult and lengthy process, though, and if you decide that you want to go that route, you want to be sure you have a solid case in front of you. Although nothing is ever guaranteed in law (just like it isn’t in medicine), an experienced lawyer can give you the best odds for a trial in front of a judge and/or a jury. 

You also want to choose a firm that has a positive history of winning cases similar to yours. When lawyers are on a case and they have high percentages of winning other trials of the same type, doctors and lawyers are going to be much more likely to offer a settlement amount that is close to the original damage amount the plaintiff is seeking. This way, they avoid the risk of going to trial with a highly experienced lawyer who is likely to take them for even more money and hang them out to dry to boot. 

If you or your loved one has been hurt or taken advantage of, someone needs to be brought forward to answer for that pain. We will make sure that your voice is heard. 

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