Hundreds of millions of people see their doctors or visit hospitals for medical help every year. While the majority of doctor and hospital visits go smoothly and patients’ conditions improve, the reality is that sometimes doctors make diagnosing errors, anesthesia errors or surgical errors, and patients’ lives are harmed. In fact, some people actually suffer serious injuries—even fatal injuries—due to medical errors.
Consequently, there are thousands of claims brought against doctors and hospitals every year in this nation for various reasons. According to the National Institutes of Health, surgical errors are the most common type of malpractice claim for patients who are admitted into a hospital for medical care, whereas diagnostic errors are the most common claim from patients who receive treatment outside of a hospital. While some of these cases settle out of court and some go to trial—providing victims of malpractice with compensation for the wrongs they suffered—some medical malpractice victims fail to file claims in time or they do something wrong along the way that bars them from receiving any compensation. This is why we want our readers to know what they shouldn’t do when medical malpractice is suspected.
What Not to Do
When you suspect that you have been mistreated by doctor or hospital staff, the following is a guide to what not to do:
- Do not ask a doctor, nurse or other party involved whether the negligence constitutes medical malpractice. This question will raise a red flag and the potential defendant might attempt to do something to cover up the medical error.
- Do not contact the doctor or hospital in writing about pursuing compensation. This means do not write a letter, send an email or text, or even contact the potential defendant over the phone about your intent to pursue compensation. Many people feel that they can settle their own claims without an attorney, but they don’t know the laws and time frames involved in such cases. Any type of written demand will start the clock in a case. Consequently, doctors and hospitals have been known to drag their feet and keep pushing a settlement off until the statute of limitations (the maximum time to file a case) has expired.
- Do not enter into negotiations with the insurance company. Insurance adjusters are trained to settle cases for pennies on the dollar. They know what your case may be worth and will offer you way less. Some people are tempted to take the insurer’s offer because they aren’t aware they can negotiate or that their case is worth way more money.
- Do not sign any documents. If the doctor or hospital knows that malpractice occurred in your situation, they may try to get you to sign a form that would release them of liability or bind you from suing them. By signing the form, you may be accepting that your only recourse is arbitration. Do yourself a favor, and do not sign anything until an attorney has reviewed it.
- Do not post anything to social media during your case. Social media posts and pictures have hurt many claims in the past, as insurance companies will even present arguments over a picture—claiming that the patient doesn’t appear to be injured.
What You Should Do
Because medical malpractice claims are complex due to the laws involved, it is best for people to speak with an attorney before doing anything else. Lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases know when a medical error rises to the level of malpractice and will be able to inform you of your rights. Plus, most of the time, it is free to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer.
Our law firm offers free, no-obligation consultations to potential clients. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by calling a medical malpractice attorney to discuss the details of your case. If you aren’t sure you want to hire an attorney yet, another thing you can do is request a free copy of our book, Do I Have a Case? A Patient’s Guide to Virginia Medical Malpractice Law.