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 & Kurth 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 & Kurth 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.