A woman holds a finger over her mouth indicating that she's keeping a secret.

You made it home. Five long days in the hospital, and home was the only thing you could think of.

But suddenly there’s a sharp pain in your stomach. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. You wrack your brain…”Did I take my medicine on time? Did I follow her instructions? Maybe I wasn’t supposed to eat yet…”

A few consults later with another physician and the truth comes to light. Your doctor didn’t just make a mistake that injured you. She hid it to protect herself. But the secrets don’t stop there. Did you know that doctors can hide their mistakes legally as well?

The Stats

Because of incredibly long hours and the general stress of the job, medical errors have become increasingly common. Out of fear of legal consequences, many doctors choose to hide their mistakes.

► More than 1 out of 10 patients are harmed over the course of their medical care. *

► Medical errors result in 250,000 deaths each year. *

► More than 7 out of 10 doctors say they’d admit little or nothing if they made a medical error, and most say they wouldn’t even apologize. *

That means we’ll never know precisely how often doctors make mistakes, because many if not most of them will hide it if they can. Or best case, “admit little.” Yikes. Back to your story.

Differences Between Settling & Going To Court

So. You find out about your doctor’s malpractice and decide to do something about it. You find the right lawyer and suddenly, the ball’s in your court. You have strong evidence and a solid case. They know you’ll win, so they offer you a substantial amount to settle. Finally, your doctor will own up to her mistake and you can move on with your life, right?

Well, not exactly.

Settlements, as you may know, are when cases don’t go to trial. They’re instead resolved outside of the courtroom.  Settlements can get the issue decided, put more money in your pocket, and resolve conflict in the shortest amount of time. The thing is, they usually involve a payment made by the defendant without admitting any fault. So you get justice, just not exactly all of it.

Trials represent a chance for more closure, but are a much lengthier, expensive, and are a public process involving more risk (but potentially more reward.) Litigation costs and attorney fees can add up, eclipsing the additional money gained from the jury award.

Two people discuss a legal situation with a document in hand.

The Disturbing Side Of Settling

For starters, settlements keep the issue private. County records will show the case was dismissed, omitting any further details.

The general public is left completely in the dark. Future patients don’t have access to databases like the “National Practitioner’s Data Bank”, which reports settlements and payments made by hospitals and doctors. Since the general public doesn’t have access to this information, malpractice is kept out of sight and out of mind. Future patient’s should know what they’re getting into, right? But how can they?

Settling can also keep you in the dark. No one has to give you the specific details of your own malpractice case.

The flip side, is that settlements can be a great way to end the case quickly and to keep things as drama-free as possible. Plus, there’s no risk of losing the trial. You get compensated, and that’s the biggest thing for many if not most people.

But sometimes, going to trial is the only option.

When To Go To Trial

Trials are when you decide to take your claim to court, allowing a jury of your peers to decide the monetary damages and who is at fault, along with a judge, attorneys, witnesses, and the use of testimonies.

For some, it can be critical to put their doctor’s wrongdoings on public record. It’s the best way to ensure the safety of other patients and the best way to avoid future incidents from happening again.

The fact remains that less than 7% of cases involving doctor malpractice go to a jury. It can also take years to process, which can be a demotivating factor when deciding whether to go to trial or not.

Despite this, taking your doctor or hospital to court over medical malpractice advocates publicly for higher levels of accountability in the professional world, and upholds a standard that is important to maintain.

A person signs a legal document with a pen.

Discerning Your Best Option

You’ve certainly felt the gravity of your physicians mistake. It affects your health, finances, and emotions, among other things. You deserve justice, no matter what form it takes.

If you face the decision to settle or go to court, just know that it’s not always black and white. It’s a deeply personal decision that only you can make. Your lawyer will be there to explain the pros and cons of each decision and to help you select the best option.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out the rest of our blog where you can find other informative posts. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like to discuss pursuing a case.