How To Handle a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Medical malpractice creates obstacles for physicians in every profession. Practitioners are faced with the reality that receiving a lawsuit at some point is not an “if” – it’s a “when”. Depending on whether you work in a low-risk or high-risk field, there is between a 75 and 99 percent chance that at some point or another, a patient is going to file some sort of litigation.
In a survey done by Medscape, it was found that over two thirds of physicians were shocked when served with papers stating that a claim had been filed against them. This is because claims can be filed a year to two years after the date of discovery. If you can be mentally prepared for this moment, it can greatly reduce the stress and uncertainty of the process.
Only a handful of physicians have said that they received relevant information about malpractice cases while in school. Here are a few ways you can be ready when this comes up in your practice.
- Right away, you’ll want to contact your malpractice insurance provider. They will assign you an attorney specialized in handling your case. The sooner you can provide your attorney with supporting documents from your patient’s record, the sooner you’ll be able to start building your defense. Don’t engage in conversation about the details of your case to anyone except for your attorney.
- Be sure not to reach out to the patient. While resolving issues on a personal level can work in normal circumstances, you won’t have any protection when speaking off the record.
- You may be tempted to revisit the patient’s files to see where things went wrong. Do not under any circumstance alter their record – the patient’s attorney can easily discover if their files were tampered with. It is not uncommon for you to be the last person to hear about the lawsuit. The attorney representing your patient has likely already built a case in reference to it.
- Play an active role in building your defense. By working with your attorney, it is possible to find out if the patient became involved with any noncompliant behavior. This is your best chance at winning the case. With that being said, be careful not to point fingers at your patient – antagonistic behavior can cause the judge to lose sympathy.
- Be aware that this process can take between two and five years. The legal process will feel unpredictable at times, and there may be overwhelming moments followed by periods of inactivity. Having an advanced awareness of these inconsistencies can minimize your frustration. Be reminded that your defense team is always working on your behalf.
- Thoroughly educate yourself with your patient’s medical record, and rehearse your deposition. Approach the litigation as if it were an academic exam, and be coherently involved in the proceedings.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are something that almost every physician must confront. These formal steps provide a way to navigate the stresses of being faced with a medical malpractice case. Have faith that your malpractice insurance provider has your best interest at heart and will ensure that your attorney is well equipped to guide you through this journey. The last step is to find a routine for relieving stress that works for you. Lean on family and friends for support, dive into the personal activities that give you joy, and don’t forget the good you are continuing to do for the world.