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How do I know if I have a medical malpractice case?

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    Determining whether someone has a case for medical malpractice can be a complex and costly process.  Some medical errors are obvious.  Examples of these obvious mistakes are surgical instruments left inside a patient or amputating a perfectly healthy right foot when it was the left foot that should have been amputated.  Nobody needs to go to medical school to understand these are obvious mistakes.  However, most instances of malpractice are far less obvious.  Just because you experienced an unusual complication does not mean your doctor did anything wrong.  Sometimes surgeries have bad results that could not have been prevented no matter how careful the doctor was.  Other bad outcomes can result even from the most skillful medical care.  So how do you know if you were the victim of medical negligence?

    The first thing you must do is contact a lawyer.  Medical malpratice lawsuits, like all types of lawsuits, are subject to a statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations sets forth the amount of time someone has to bring a lawsuit after they have been injured.  If suit is not brought within that period of time, no lawsuit may ever be brought.  Statutes of limitations vary from state to state.  In Ohio, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions is one year.  While this may seem like plenty of time to contact a lawyer and file a lawsuit, as you will see, it is not much time at all.

    Once you have made the first step of contacting a lawyer, that lawyer must investigate the merits of your potential case.  In other words, he or she must determine whether medical negligence has occured.  While the investigation process varies from lawyer to lawyer and from case to case, there are several steps to most investigations.  First, your lawyer will have to get all of your relevant medical records.  This may involve requesting records from multiple doctors and hospitals.  This process can be very expensive and takes time.  These records are not free and you will have to pay to have your health care provider retrieve your records, copy them, and send them to your lawyer.  This can cost hundreds of dollars.  It can also take months from the time your lawyer requests your medical records before he or she receives them.

    Once your lawyer receives all your records, someone with an understanding of medicine must review them.  Sometimes an experienced malpractice lawyer can tell from his or her own review of the records that malpractice has or has not occured.  Frequently, however, a lawyer must have either a nurse or even another doctor review those records.  These nurses and doctors charge for their time.  Finding someone qualified to review your case and waiting for their availability can also cause delays.   

    Another factor that will influence your lawyer’s decision to file suit is how much it will cost to get your case ready for trial and how much money a jury is likely to award you for your injuries.  Even if a doctor has clearly committed malpractice, the cost of the suit may not be justified by your potential recovery.  Preparing a malpractice case for trial is expensive.  During the phase of a lawsuit known as discovery, both sides will inevitably have to hire experts and conduct costly depositions.  If your lawyer estimates that an expert will cost $7,000, other expenses will be around $20,000, and the most a jury will ever award you for your injuries is $15,000, it will not make any economic sense to bring the suit. 

    If you think you may have been the victim of medical negligence, contact a lawyer immediately.  Calling a lawyer with just one month before the statute of limitations expires is usually not enough time for a lawyer to examine your case and file suit.  Also be prepared to provide your lawyer information like the dates you were treated, who treated you and at what hospitals and doctors offices.  The more time and the more information you can provide your lawyer the better.