As a medical professional, you’ve waited years to begin your career. Decades of school and specialized learning culminates in your first residency or job. From there, you see patients and help people to the best of your knowledge and abilities. Yet, there comes a time for many doctors when a mistake occurs that harms a patient. On top of the guilt, many patients file a claim against you asserting negligence or malpractice. These claims take time to process and may even end up in court. Learn what happens to doctors after a malpractice claim.
The malpractice claim journey is a long and arduous road for both the physician and the patient. And it all begins with the claim.
The Patient Claims Malpractice
Though some patients claim malpractice for minor issues, the fact of the matter is that a legally binding claim is on your desk. The patient will likely have a lawyer with whom they drafted and filed this claim. The claim will describe the incident and subsequent harm patients experienced. Much thought and planning goes into the wording and presentation of the facts.
Notices and Summons
Depending on the state wherein you practice, legal processes differ. However, you will receive either a notice of intent to sue or a court summons. Either of these documents serve as the blossoming of the claim into legal formality. So, you could potentially open a letter in the mail one day and see a court summons without prior knowledge of the harmed patient. Many doctors do not even know the notice is coming until it’s already there. This surprise can leave many medical professionals reeling, confused about the patient and incident in question. The important thing to remember is that your insurance is on your side and will do everything they can to handle the claim.
Many medical malpractice claims and lawsuits end with a settlement. This settlement is a form of payment equivalent to the damages suffered by the patient. Depending on the severity of the harm, these payouts can skyrocket. That is why both parties and their lawyers work together to negotiate a mutually agreed-upon resolution.
Contacting Your Insurance
After receiving your summons, the first thing you should do is notify your malpractice insurance carrier. Your insurance agency exists for this very purpose; it is their job to support you in the event of a career-threatening emergency such as this. Depending on the extent of your coverage and type of policy, your insurer will cover a predetermined amount for everything from lawyer fees to settlements. Insurance agents specialize in handling this process, so you should defer to their recommendations throughout the process, especially if this is your first malpractice claim.
Communicating with Lawyers
Your insurance carrier will either assign or help you find an attorney. This person will be your point of contact for everything related to the case. They will help you organize your information and issue a prompt response to the summons. The next steps will vary depending on the suit, but both sides will perform discovery and depositions to gather information about the opposing sides.
All legal communication will happen through lawyers who can help coach you on the proper etiquette and language when discussing matters of the case, especially with the plaintiff. Before entering a courtroom, you will probably go through the process of arbitration wherein both sides discuss and negotiate a settlement commensurate to the verified incident. This method settles legal matters outside the courtroom, saving everyone precious time and money. If the case goes to the courtroom, you will have a whole other issue on your hands. Regardless of the path your case follows, it all will end eventually.
The legal battle is over; adjudicating bodies set the settlement or verdict in stone. Now comes the time for a resolution to this patient claim and malpractice incident. Here is what happens in the days, weeks, and months following a malpractice claim.
Settlements and Payments
The first order of business is settling any outstanding financial obligations. Depending on how the claim worked its way through the legal system, you could have a significant payment to make or none at all. If you have a settlement, you must coordinate with your insurance company to determine how much they will cover.
One of the biggest questions many medical professionals have after a lawsuit is whether they can keep their licensure and still practice. The short answer is no, but it depends on the circumstances of your case. Even when courts find doctors guilty of malpractice, they don’t revoke their license to practice. If you lose your ability to practice, a court will make these terms clear, and other deliberations will happen; the authorities won’t take your license without your explicit knowledge.
Some may feel surprised by this reality, but it all boils down to the claim’s purpose. Harmed patients may desire that you don’t practice again because of what you allegedly did to them. However, the central matter in a malpractice or negligence lawsuit isn’t your medical career but rather the injured person’s compensation. Malpractice claims seek to make the harmed person whole. So, don’t worry about your practice unless the proper agencies notify you of this possibility.
Though your ability to practice is not as threatened as you once believed, it doesn’t mean your career is entirely safe. If you end up paying a large amount of the settlement, you could feel the financial ramifications of a malpractice suit for years to come. Consider finding the best malpractice insurance for your specialization and even save up for the eventuality of a lawsuit. With your financial resources in check, you have a chance to weather a malpractice storm.
Knowing what happens to doctors after a malpractice claim can deliver a sense of clarity and calm during an often-stressful process. If you’re a medical worker in need of professional liability malpractice insurance, reach out to our team at Baxter & Associates to find coverage that fits your career.