If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a healthcare provider’s negligence, one of the first things to do is to find an experienced medical malpractice lawyer with a history of success. Here are some tips to make the process less overwhelming for you. CHALLENGES FACING VICTIMS OF MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
Write Down Some Notes
Before contacting an attorney on your list, make some notes about your case. Some basic information you’ll need is the exact date of your injury, the extent of the injury, the name of the clinic or hospital where you were treated, and the name of the physician who treated you.
Make an Appointment to Interview the Attorney You’re Considering
The next step is calling the office of the lawyer you are thinking about hiring. Provide a brief overview of your case from the notes you took and inquire about when you can interview the lawyer. Some lawyers prefer to do this interview over the phone, while others prefer a face-to-face meeting.
Write Out a List of Questions Before the Interview
Knowing what you want to ask before meeting with the attorney is very helpful. Write down some questions and take them with you to the interview (or have them on hand in the case of an over-the-phone interview). Some examples of questions that you may want to ask include:
- What percentage of the attorney’s cases are related to medical malpractice?
- How long has the attorney been representing clients in these types of lawsuits?
- Do they handle clients with your types of injuries? This is important, as some lawyers only represent clients with certain types of injuries. If they do handle cases like yours, it’s not out of line to ask how many similar cases they have handled.
- What range of settlements or verdicts do they typically obtain in cases similar to yours? The response to this question will usually be quite vague, but it will give you an estimate of what to expect. Remember, there is no way for them to know the true value of your case until they have fully investigated it.
- How long do cases like yours usually take? This may sound like a pushy line of questioning, but, rest assured, it’s not. A reputable lawyer should be able to give you a ballpark estimate as far as the length of such cases. Don’t be shocked to hear that medical malpractices can take years due to their complexity.
- Is the lawyer you’re interviewing going to be the one representing you, or will it be someone else in the office? It’s always helpful to know with whom you’ll be working.
- Will the firm represent you on a contingent-fee basis? Basically, you just want to know whether or not they will charge you for their services if they lose your case. A contingent-fee basis means that they won’t charge you unless you win your case. If an attorney offers to take on your case on an hourly basis, it’s often because they don’t believe they will win.
- Do they have malpractice insurance? Any reputable malpractice attorney will be insured properly.
- What timeline do you need to give them if you decide to hire them? This varies from lawyer to lawyer.
Interview the Attorney
Now that you have all of your questions prepared, it’s time to meet, in-person or by phone. The interview is basically an opportunity for you to decide if you’ve found a lawyer that you’re comfortable working with. If you’ve prepared properly, this process should go pretty smoothly. Nonetheless, here are a few things to keep in mind for the interview:
- Many lawyers charge a fee, often between $50 and $100, to meet with them.
- If the firm is not interested in taking on your case, take notes about why they aren’t interested. Ask them if they know another attorney or law firm that may be willing to take your case. It is always possible that you may not be able to find an attorney to represent you, as many firms are cautious about which malpractice cases they take on, as they can lose a lot of money if they don’t win.
- Let them know if you will need the regular services of a language translator.
- If you’re not completely sold on the first firm you meet with, meet with at least one other lawyer or firm before making your decision.
- Perhaps most importantly, make sure that you’re comfortable with whomever you will be working, as malpractice suits can take several years to settle or take to trial.
Make an Agreement and Sign All of the Paperwork
Once you’ve found a lawyer you’re comfortable with, you will be asked to sign a contingent fee contract as well as an agreement to release your medical records to them.
A contingent fee contract is just an agreement between you and your lawyer regarding fees. This contract should specify that you will not pay the lawyer upfront, but rather that you agree to pay an agreed-upon percentage of your reward if you win your case.
You will need to sign medical record release forms for every healthcare provider named in your lawsuit and everyone who has been involved with your care since you suffered your injury. This can even include mental health professionals such as therapists and psychiatrists. If this is necessary, you may want to contact them to limit the scope of what they release.
Tips and Warnings
- It is your right to decide whether or not to accept any settlement offer, but keep in mind that your lawyer should have a pretty good gauge about whether or not an offer is reasonable.
- Lawsuits can be unpredictable, so you should never assume you’re going to win and start spending beyond your means in anticipation of a big payday.
- It is common for 50% or more of your settlement or verdict to be lawfully claimed by your attorney’s firm. They will take their fee before you ever receive a check.
All lawsuits are unpredictable, and medical malpractice suits are especially so. Often the difference between it being a miserable experience and a satisfying one is the lawyer you decide to hire. Keep this mind when making your decision, and you’re bound to find someone who suits you well.