As with most lawsuits, medical malpractice cases often take a considerable amount of time to reach a resolution. Depending on the details of your case and any complicating factors present, the medical malpractice lawsuit timeline in your situation can span from months to years. It can be discouraging to feel that you might have to wait so long for the justice and compensation you deserve. But filing a lawsuit may be your best option to receive the financial award and closure you need to rebuild your life after the injury. Further, the time spent resolving the medical malpractice claim is often necessary to fully discover what happened and prepare strong arguments to maximize your chance of winning your case.
In this post, The Snyder Law Group provides you with an overview of the timeline of a medical malpractice case to help you understand what to expect should you decide to pursue legal action. Our team of Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers has decades of experience helping clients hold at-fault doctors, hospitals, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals accountable for injuring patients.
How Long After Medical Malpractice Can You Sue?
Each state requires injured patients (plaintiffs) to file a lawsuit against an at-fault healthcare provider before the expiration of a certain deadline. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. How long patients have to sue depends on the law of the state in which the malpractice occurred, the type of injury, and other factors.
In Maryland, many plaintiffs have to bring a lawsuit within five years after the injury-causing event occurs or within three years after they discover the harm. But there are exceptions that may apply that can shorten or lengthen this deadline. For instance, if a patient is incapacitated by their injuries and can’t file a lawsuit, they may have additional time to do so. If the victim is a minor, the statute of limitations typically does not begin to run until the child turns 18. The best way to protect your legal right to sue negligent healthcare providers is to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
What Is the Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Timeline?
Many victims of medical malpractice may wonder how long a medical malpractice lawsuit takes to complete. Understandably, they are anxious for the process to be over and thus to find closure, but they also want to ensure they protect their legal rights. Many are also frustrated about what happened to them and want to pursue justice, so they can move forward and cover their living and medical expenses.
The specific timeline for each case varies depending on the specific circumstances. Some cases may reach a settlement in a short amount of time, while other claims take years to resolve. Below, our team discusses some of the common steps involved in most medical malpractice lawsuits.
The Patient Discovers the Injury
The first step of the malpractice claims process is the patient discovering the injury. They may notice something is wrong immediately after they see the doctor or begin the negligent treatment. For example, if a patient goes to an oral surgeon to have their wisdom teeth removed and the surgeon instead removes their molars, they may notice this right away. Other negligent treatments may take much longer for the patient to realize.
In terms of the law, the date the patient knew or should have known that the provider committed malpractice is important. Often, this event triggers the statute of limitations mentioned above. Determining when the statute of limitations begins is a nuanced and complicated area of law. Regardless of whether you think you missed the deadline, it may be beneficial to talk to an attorney to find out. A legal exception may apply to your case and give you extra time to file.
The Patient Contacts an Attorney
Once the patient discovers the injury and attributes it to a healthcare provider, they may decide to contact an experienced attorney. The lawyer can review the claim, conduct preliminary investigations, and determine if the patient has a viable case against the healthcare provider. They can also help the patient understand and meet their filing deadlines and obligations under the applicable law.
The Attorney Contacts Medical Experts
In many states, plaintiffs must consult a medical expert to validate their claim against the at-fault hospital or provider prior to filing a lawsuit. Under Maryland law, for example, patients must consult a medical expert who practices in a similar or the same specialty as the defendant provider. To qualify as a medical expert, they typically must have practiced in the same or similar field as the defendant within five years of when the malpractice occurred. If the negligent doctor or provider gave medical advice outside of their field of specialty, the patient might be able to consult a wide range of medical experts.
An attorney can help patients find an appropriate medical expert and prepare the required legal paperwork. For example, the attorney can gather pertinent medical records and evidence and communicate with the medical expert on your behalf. They can also help prepare you to meet with the medical expert and send the forms the expert must sign to meet the legal requirements.
The Attorney Sends a Notice to the At-Fault Physician or Hospital
The attorney can help the patient prepare and send required notices and legal paperwork to the at-fault hospital. Some states, such as Washington, D.C., require the patient to send a notice of intention to file a lawsuit to the defendant healthcare provider at least 90 days prior to filing a lawsuit. Washington, D.C. requires patients to include specific information in the notice, such as an explanation of the basis for the lawsuit and the injuries suffered by the patient. A lawyer can help the patient write and submit this paperwork to the defendant within the applicable time frame.
The Attorney Files a Lawsuit
The next stage of the process is for the patient (or their legal representative) to file a lawsuit. If you are in Maryland or Washington, D.C., it is important to seek the legal assistance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. They have the specialized knowledge required to navigate the complex rules about bringing these types of claims in these states.
For example, Maryland requires most patients to file a lawsuit with a special arbitration panel. Likewise, Washington, D.C. requires most patients to engage in mandatory mediation with a mediator, the at-fault doctor or hospital, and other related parties. If mediation is unsuccessful, the patient may be able to file a claim in the appropriate court.
The Parties Conduct Discovery
Depending on the forum where the patient files the lawsuit, the parties may engage in an expanded or limited discovery process. During this stage, they investigate the basis of the claim and request evidence from the other parties. Additionally, the parties interview witnesses under oath in depositions to understand what happened. For example, in a case involving whether the patient gave informed consent, the patient (or the patient’s attorney) may interview the doctors, nurses, staff, and records custodians to determine what forms, if any, the patient signed and what state the patient was in when they allegedly signed the form.
The discovery process often plays a critical role in the outcome of the case. By gathering evidence, the parties can each use the materials and legal research to construct the arguments they plan to present to the judge or jury. Because of the importance of this part of the process, having the assistance of legal counsel is especially important. The attorney understands the process of requesting information, what materials the opposing side must present to the patient, and how to conduct depositions.
The Parties Engage in Settlement Negotiations
At the conclusion of the discovery process (if applicable), the parties typically engage in settlement negotiations. The length of time this process takes depends on the number of parties involved, the complexity of the case, and the applicable law. Again, having the assistance of an attorney is critical to helping the patient prepare and present persuasive settlement offers. The doctor, hospital, or provider (and their insurance provider) has an interest in paying out as little as possible, so having a diligent and well-informed legal team is vital to maximizing the chances of coming to a fair agreement with the opposing side.
The Parties Go to Trial
If the parties are unable to come to a successful out-of-court agreement, the patient may instead decide to argue their case at trial. During this stage, each party presents their arguments and evidence in front of a judge (if a bench trial) or jury (if a jury trial). The trial may last one day or many depending on the complexity of the case. Further, the trial may occur in court, in arbitration, or, in some cases, in mediation. At the conclusion of the trial or trial-like process, the judge makes a decision about the case and issues a judgment.
Because of what is at stake in the case, it is especially critical for patients to have a diligent attorney representing them. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys have the skill and knowledge necessary to effectively present and argue the case in court.
What Factors Can Lengthen the Time It Takes to Settle a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice cases can take anywhere from a few months to years to conclude. Factors that impact the timeline of the case include the trial preparation process and the complexity of the case.
The length of the case does not always have a direct correlation to the patient’s success. In other words, a case may resolve quickly but end unfavorably to the patient (especially if they sign a settlement agreement without consulting an attorney). A case may also take years and end favorably for the patient. The true measure of the quality of the case is the strength of the claim, the quality of the evidence, the circumstances of the case, and the applicable law.
The Trial Preparation Process
In a typical medical malpractice case, the preparation leading up to the trial is usually the most time-consuming. You and your medical malpractice lawyer work together to gather the information you need to build your case. The materials that you need include medical records, second opinions, and other details of the medical malpractice injury. Depending on the time it takes to get a trial date, this process could take several months. Once you go to trial, the duration of the case depends on what other details affect the final deliberation.
The Complexity of the Case
The main reason that medical malpractice cases might take some time is that they are rarely straightforward. There are many extenuating circumstances that can make it unclear as to what led to a patient suffering an injury. For example, a patient might undergo more than one procedure in the span of just a few days before they realize they have contracted an infection. Since the patient’s procedures were likely done by multiple different doctors, it can be difficult to determine which one was originally at fault for the infection. Also, since medical malpractice cases usually involve multiple parties, that further complicates coordinating schedules for when to set a trial date.
Should I Hire Medical Malpractice Lawyers to Represent Me?
Investing in the right lawyers to help you handle your medical malpractice claim is important. Many patients who bring medical malpractice claims are hurting in many ways and have a lot to balance at once. If they decide to also handle their legal claim on their own, it can often be too much. Instead, the best practice is to call on professionals to help handle the legal matters so the patient can focus on healing and moving forward.
The medical malpractice attorneys at Snyder Law Group operate on a contingency fee basis. Rather than being paid based on the time it takes them to work on the case, they are only paid if they win your case on your behalf, and you receive compensation.
Call The Snyder Law Group Today
The Snyder Law Group, LLC, proudly represents clients throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C. Our experienced Baltimore attorneys understand the frustration of working with a medical professional who refuses to accept liability for their negligent or reckless behavior. You can take heart in knowing our talented and experienced lawyers are ready to work for you. We are experienced in handling personal injury claims of medical malpractice and have secured hundreds of millions in verdicts and settlements*. Give us a call at (410)-755-5829 for a free case evaluation. Please visit our website, www.410thefirm.com, for more information and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.