What Happens in a Medical Malpractice Case in Pennsylvania?

  • October 01, 2022
  • Blog
Medical malpractice cases often conclude after a settlement conference. Settlement conferences are meetings between the opposing sides of a lawsuit before trial. A judge usually orders them and mediates. In many instances, these conferences result in excellent settlement terms for plaintiffs.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Differ from Other Types of Personal Injury Law

Medical malpractice lawsuits differ from other personal injury claims because the law requires more stringent standards of evidence, expert witnesses are always necessary, and much of the evidence is highly technical, making the case more complex and challenging for lay jurors to understand. Pennsylvania law requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to submit a Certificate of Merit to the court within sixty days of filing a claim. A medical expert completes the Certificate of Merit, proving that a qualified individual has reviewed the evidence and determined the reason to believe medical malpractice occurred. A poor result for the patient does not in itself prove malpractice. Providers may have done everything right and even performed the treatment with far above average skill, focus, and determination, but the patient still suffers an adverse outcome. For instance, some cardiac patients die despite receiving the latest proven treatments from top-rated doctors who performed exceptionally well at the best hospitals. Medical treatment cannot correct all ailments or save all lives. Instead, medical malpractice occurs when a provider or hospital departs from accepted standards and that departure harms the patient. For instance, the medical community has established procedures for heart surgery. If the surgeon omits a critical step and the patient suffers harm, such as needing more surgery to correct the error or death, a claim for medical malpractice exists. The Certificate of Merit prevents frivolous lawsuits by requiring plaintiffs to show that the treatment failed to meet acceptable standards. Without this step, the courts could become clogged with cases from plaintiffs who received excellent care but still could not be cured. As medical malpractice cases advance through the litigation process, experts provide testimony demonstrating their opinion on the quality of the care provided and whether the provider’s actions constitute malpractice. Because the jury’s view of the expert's conclusions forms the basis for its verdict, medical malpractice cases are largely battles of the experts. Personal injury claims hinge on whether the jury believes the claim based on a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not. When two expert opinions diverge, jurors rely on which they find more credible in view of their presentation and how it jibes with the other evidence.

Settlement Conferences Help Litigants Deal with Complexities in Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Cases

This process is usually more complex than a typical personal injury case. For instance, a car accident plaintiff can prove another motorist acted negligently using clear and easy evidence for a lay jury to comprehend. For example, witness statements, accident scene photos, and accident re-creation reports can provide a clear picture of what occurred on the road, a situation most jurors encounter routinely in their lives. Most jurors have little knowledge of medicine and provider standards. As a result, they must wade through evidence and rely upon explanations provided by witnesses. Settlement conferences often result in an agreement because neither side wants to risk going before a jury when evidence is complicated and subject to misconceptions. The judge can help evaluate evidence, weigh the claim's strength, and determine fair damages. A successful settlement conference allows each side to see the likely outcome of a jury trial and negotiate a settlement based on this expectation. Knowing the probable outcome, neither side wants to delay the case’s conclusion by years (with appeals) when a settlement conference yields the same results with less time and expense.

Settlement Conferences Reduce the Time to Litigate Medical Malpractice Cases in Pennsylvania

Settling malpractice lawsuits may take longer than other personal injury claims when large amounts of evidence are needed to prove the claim. While the evidence required to prove a car accident claim may involve collecting several reports and interviewing eyewitnesses, establishing a medical malpractice claim often requires reviewing hundreds of pages of medical records, interviewing multiple experts, and subpoenaing additional records and witnesses. There is no way to shortcut the investigative process and win a large claim. The other side must know that you have the proof to win in court before they capitulate. However, once we have collected the evidence needed to win, a settlement conference often provides the ideal venue for convincing the defense to see reason. Often, insurance companies balk at the costs of a settlement, and doctors and other providers may feel they need to fight the case to defend their professional reputations. However, when confronted with a strong case against them, insurance companies reason that the expense of a trial will dig them deeper into a financial hole, and the jury could award a much higher amount. When they know they will lose more by continuing to fight, insurance companies make a business decision to settle cases. Likewise, doctors and other healthcare practitioners may initially feel compelled to battle the case in court, often believing that they must have done things correctly. However, they usually acquiesce to a settlement when we confront them with evidence proving they made a mistake. Settlement conferences allow us to convince the other side to pay a just settlement and avoid an expensive, time-consuming, and embarrassing trial. When you have a strong case going into a settlement conference, the other side usually agrees to excellent terms.

Getting to a Settlement Conference in Pennsylvania

Because settlement conferences often produce outstanding results for plaintiffs, most medical malpractice victims wish they could happen sooner. However, the success of the settlement conference hinges on having a strong claim, and building a winning case starts with discovery.

Discovery

Discovery begins after the complaint is filed. During discovery, both sides request information, evidence, and related documentation from opposing counsel and others with pertinent information. This process gives each side a peek into the other’s evidence so that attorneys can understand the facts altogether. For medical malpractice cases, discovery often centers on expert witnesses. Each side will obtain its experts, and, in most cases, there is some disagreement between them. Lawyers drill down on each expert’s conclusions during interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories are written questions lawyers present to the opposing side’s witnesses. They prepare attorneys for depositions, where lawyers interview the other side's witnesses under oath with a court reporter. Settlement conferences can occur before or after depositions. If the issues are clear and the sides are not far apart, a settlement conference before depositions may yield results. However, depositions are necessary in many cases for the plaintiff to fully establish their case. Once depositions are complete, the plaintiff often has more substantial evidence, setting up a productive post-deposition settlement conference.

Is it Worth It to Settle in Pennsylvania?

Over 90% of medical malpractice cases settle out of court. This high settlement rate occurs because medical malpractice cases are well-supported by scientific evidence and testimony showing best practices were neglected. Facing an expensive loss in court, defendants have the motivation to offer an acceptable settlement. However, plaintiffs must sometimes reject offers at a settlement conference and continue litigating to receive the total compensation they deserve. This occurs when the defense insists on a low settlement despite having a weak case. The settlement conference ends when neither the plaintiff's attorneys nor the judge can bring them to their senses. When discovery and other motions have already taken place, the failure of a settlement conference means the case is ready for trial. During a trial, a jury must decide the facts of the case. Therefore, defendants going to trial against strong evidence have little chance of success. Instead, they often finally agree to a high settlement in the days or hours before the trial. It’s a common tactic for defendants to wait until the last minute–sometimes literally–in the hope that the plaintiff will take a lesser deal to receive the monetary award earlier.

Collecting the Settlement

Receiving the compensation without going through a trial and appeals is helpful to many plaintiffs who need financial help and have other aspects of their life that the litigation distracts from. However, it is important to refuse to settle until the defense makes an excellent offer. During a settlement conference, the settlement amount is negotiated along with the form of payment. Lawyers negotiate both structured settlements and lump-sum payments. While a lump-sum payment seems more attractive because the money is paid immediately, there are situations where a structured settlement makes more sense. For instance, structured settlements can be the best option in birth injury cases or medical malpractice involving young children. The court creates a fund to ensure the victim has long-term or permanent medical care funds. Despite structured settlements offering advantages in certain situations, lump-sum payments are generally the least complicated way to collect a settlement and provide maximum flexibility. When negotiating a lump-sum agreement, it is essential to factor in any future costs for medical care and other assistance needed due to the injury. Once the settlement is paid, plaintiffs are on their own financially, so the agreed-upon figure must be sufficient to cover all future needs related to the accident. Settlement conferences often result in excellent terms for the plaintiff. Medical malpractice claims require extensive investigation and medical testimony. As a result, they prove difficult to refute in court. When defense attorneys know they face an uphill battle at trial, they make attractive offers at settlement conferences.

Work with a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorney

Mattiacci Law’s personal injury team understands the complexities and standards of proof needed in medical malpractice cases. Once we develop the evidence needed to win, we obtain high-dollar settlements and verdicts for our clients. You deserve total compensation when a medical error caused you harm. Contact Mattiacci Law for a free consultation. Related Content: Do Most Medical Malpractice Cases End in Settlement?

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