THE BUSINESS END OF A MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWSUIT
Posted By Meyerkord & Meyerkord, LLC
Everyone knows what the business end of a gun is - the barrel. Your gun
is only as good as its’ barrel. A family who has been harmed by
a careless, devastating medical error has a weapon at their disposal.
A well drafted medical malpractice lawsuit. Each state has specific rules
on how a malpractice victim can file suit against his or her health care
providers. Skilled medical malpractice lawyers have the resources and
contacts to practice in more than one state. Did you know that a medical
malpractice lawsuit has a “business end”? The business end
of a medical malpractice suit is the money required to fund the case,
and like a gun’s barrel, it is a critical component. The business
end of even the best medical malpractice lawsuit, one with the best facts
and greatest injury, is only as good as one thing - the money available
to fund the project.
Many years ago, a personal injury lawyer who frequently advertises on television
in my region boasted in an advertisement that his law firm had recently
spent several hundred thousand dollars to finance a client’s medical
malpractice claim. Without funding a lawsuit goes nowhere, the project
never gets off the ground. Several hundred thousand dollars for one single
case. That seems like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money. Considering
that the personal injury law firm has hundreds, if no thousands of cases
open at any given time the case expenses add up to a million or millions, quickly.
Why are medical malpractice cases so expensive? Why are malpractice cases
any more expensive than automobile crash cases or workers’ compensation
cases, or slip and fall cases? The answer is simple - expert witnesses
are costly and required by law in malpractice cases. Experts are expensive
and not easily impressed. Usually, many experts are hired to initially
vet a medical malpractice case, and each wants payment, regardless of
their ultimate findings. In medical malpractice cases it is not unusual
for a half dozen experts to review and reject a proposed case prior to
finding a supportive expert. Most car crash cases and comp cases settle
before suit is filed and before a trial occurs. Very few, almost no medical
malpractice cases settle before suit is filed.
In Missouri, plaintiff lawyers must file an affidavit of merit, from a
medical expert, either with the original petition or shortly thereafter.
Failure to comply will result in a dismissal of the action by the judge
assigned. Affidavits of merit must be signed by a medical professional,
also known as an expert. The affidavit of merit does not tell the whole
story. Often multiple medical experts must be located, contacted, supplied
with medical records and other preliminary evidence before one is found
who is willing to assist. Physicians can be reluctant to participate in
medical malpractice lawsuits because they either (1) did not go through
medical school to get involved in lawsuits or (2) despise injury lawyers
and lawsuits and will work only for defendants in malpractice cases. It
is not unusual for a personal injury law firm to spend several thousand
dollars per expert in just the initial attempt to secure an affidavit
of merit. The time and manpower it takes to secure just a letter of merit
can be draining and frustrating to a client and the attorney’s staff.
Once the initial expert is found is that the end of it? Of course not!
Many more experts will need to be found and found early in order to prosecute
further, or as it is called - litigate a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Why? Because malpractice cases almost never settle early. Hospitals and
physician practice groups are well funded and well insured. The lawyers
that defend physicians and their companies are well trained and some of
the sharpest litigators in the business. Such defense lawyers spend years
learning their trade, trying cases and developing their professional reputations
as stalwart defenders of doctors. The experienced malpractice defense
lawyer does not fear inexperienced plaintiff lawyers and will treat experienced
malpractice lawyers differently than the unknown counterpart.
Depositions will be taken. Flights will be taken by legal teams across
the country to attend depositions. Multiple medical experts are usually
needed in malpractice cases - one for each aspect of liability theory.
Experts may be needed to prove the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s
damages (called by lawyers “damages experts”). In really big
cases, vocational experts are needed to testify about a plaintiff’s
inability to work or compete for work and economists are needed to quantify
lost work in terms of today’s dollars. What’s more, each of
the plaintiff’s experts will be met by one or more defense experts
to counter act and contradict their opinions. These experts are expensive
(many thousands of dollars each) and distant. Good lawyers personally
meet experts well before their deposition to vet them and ensure the stability
of their opinion(s).
Experts base their opinions on medical records. Some cases have records
of only a few dozen pages, but most have medical records consisting of
many hundred or many thousand pages. These records must be purchased and
analyzed. Top plaintiff firms have nurses on staff or on contract who
assist in record acquisition and analysis. These nurses are expensive
and require payment long before the case ever settles if it ever settles.
So how much does a plaintiff medical malpractice cost? Our law firms deep
experience in representing medical malpractice plaintiffs tells us that
the minimum, the absolute minimum required to file and reach depositions
is $20,000.00. That may not sound like much until you realize that the
plaintiff, the injured plaintiff, does NOT pay that money up front and
only reimburses the firm if and when their case recovers, be it settlement
or verdict. As stated above, most firms, and certainly our personal injury
law firm have many hundreds of cases open at any given time. These numbers
add up fast.
What about the local St. Louis injury attorney who went on television years
ago and boasted of his investment in a single case? We have him beat.
Meyerkord & Meyerkord recently financed a medical malpractice case
involving a terrible amputation to a minor to the tune of over $400,000.00.
The investment was sound, and the firm was repaid its case costs. I can
tell you that only a hand full of personal injury law firms can manage
a single case investment of $50,000.00. Most cannot. Of those that can,
many do not practice in the realm of medical malpractice for plaintiffs.
These days the biggest personal injury lawyers focus their practice on
an area of emphases. There exist so few truly great medical malpractice
lawsuits that most successful personal injury lawyers prefer to focus
on product liability cases or mass torts or trucking cases.
Meyerkord and Meyerkord has maintained a practice group of dedicated medical
malpractice lawyers since its inception. Before our firm was founded,
Stephen F. Meyerkord focused on medical negligence cases at his predecessor
firm. At any given time our firm has filed or is investigating a dozen
or more quality medical malpractice cases. Defense lawyers know our firm
only prosecutes quality cases and that reputation makes a difference in
settlement value. Defense lawyers know that our firm is well capitalized
in terms of dollars and years of experience and that makes a difference.
Make sure that when you choose a medical malpractice attorney for you
or your family that the firm has the wherewithal to be your partner at
the business end of a malpractice lawsuit.