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First Steps in a Medical Malpractice Claim

Medical malpractice cases are sought by patients who have been harmed due to poor medical treatment or mistaken diagnosis from a medical care provider. Typically, the measure of whether a medical care provider was “negligent," or failed to provide proper care, hinges on whether the patient would have received the same standard of care from another medical care provider under similar circumstances.

While the majority of health care providers aim to exercise the highest standard of care for all patients, there are times when things can go seriously wrong. If you or a loved one has been harmed due to poor medical care, misdiagnosis, lack of consent, or breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, you may be entitled to damages under a medical malpractice claim.

Below are some basic first steps in bringing a medical malpractice case.

Contact the Medical Professional Involved

The first step to starting a medical malpractice case is contacting the doctor or medical professional who works with you before you actually file the claim. Your goal is to get an understanding of what may have gone wrong and allow your doctor to determine whether it's something that can be remedied.

In most cases, medical providers are willing to perform services (sometimes free of charge) to correct a problem or provide a solution.

Contact the Relevant Medical Licensing Board

If contacting the medical professional doesn't help the situation, you may wish to contact the licensing board that governs medical licenses. While licensing boards typically can't order the professional to compensate you, they can issue warnings to or discipline the practitioner and may be able to provide you with guidance about your next steps.

Know How Long You Have to File a Claim

When deciding whether to file a medical malpractice claim, it's important to find out how much time you have to legally bring the claim. All civil claims, including medical malpractice cases, have time limits as to when they must be filed. Called “statutes of limitations," these limits require you to file your claim within a certain time period from when the injury occurred or from when you should have reasonably known you were injured. Once this timeframe passes, you risk loss of the ability to recover money for your injuries.

Check the statutes of limitation in your particular state to ensure the time period for filing your claim does not run out. You can also learn about specific state laws on our medical malpractice legal answers page.

Get a Medical Assessment to Confirm Your Case Has Merit

A growing number of states require patients to file a “certificate of merit" before starting a medical malpractice case to determine that the injuries you suffered resulted from a health care professional's negligence.

To file a certificate of merit you must first contact an expert, usually another physician. This expert will review your medical records and certify that the original health care provider deviated from accepted medical practices, which resulted in your injuries. The attorney that you hire will now file the certificate of merit, which confirms that you spoke with a medical expert and that your action has merit.

Consider an Out-of-Court Settlement

Medical malpractice cases can be timely and costly, which is why most such cases are settled out of court. In addition, because medical malpractice insurance companies reject a significantly large portion of medical malpractice claims, it may be in your best interest to settle out-of-court or risk recovering at trial. Keep in mind, however, that if you believe you have a strong case, then you should seek a larger settlement or pursue a judgment at trial against the defendant healthcare provider(s).

Starting a Medical Malpractice Case? Get Help from an Attorney

Finding a qualified medical malpractice attorney can mean the difference between receiving compensation for your injuries and walking away empty-handed. An experienced attorney will be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case and advise you on a course of action moving forward. Begin by using FindLaw's attorney directory to contact a medical malpractice attorney today.

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