You or a loved one is the victim of a doctor or other health care provider’s negligence, and you want to hold them accountable by bringing a lawsuit. Be prepared – seeking justice takes time, and could take years to resolve.

There are a number of reasons. Medical malpractice claims tend to be more complicated than other types of injury lawsuits, requiring extensive review of patient records, expert analysis and testimony, and investigation into the alleged negligence and long-term effects. Also, depending on the extent of the injuries or death of the patient, there may be substantial damages arising from repeat hospitalizations, prolong medical care and rehabilitation, lost income and earning capacity, and other economic hardships that can put families in a downward financial spiral. Determining the extent of those damages can also take time as the a lawsuit winds its way through the legal system.

The timeline for a medical malpractice lawsuit, from start to finish, depends on the complexity of the case, the willingness of the parties to negotiate, and many other factors. With that said, here’s a general overview of what happens in a medical malpractice case.

The Injury

Any medical malpractice claim begins with the incident that causes the injury. However, injuries due to medical malpractice can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint right away.

Claims involving a mistake in diagnosis, a failure to provide treatment, or a surgical error may not be immediately evident.

The critical point in any case is when the injury is first discovered. When you learn of an injury, you should contact your doctor. This way, you can find out what may have caused the problem and the doctor can determine whether it can be remedied. If your doctor refuses to talk to you or the problem cannot be resolved, you may consider contacting the appropriate medical licensing board.

If, after taking these steps, you decide to pursue a medical malpractice action, you must collect all the documents and records related to your medical care, which you can do with the help of an experienced medical malpractice attorney who will assess your claim and file the case on your behalf.

Limited Time To File Suit

Medical malpractice claims have a statute of limitations — in other words, there is a time limit on when you can file a complaint.

In Michigan, medical malpractice claims must typically be filed within two years of the date the negligent act occurred. If the injury is not discovered until after two years, an additional six months is given under a so-called “discovery rule.”

Be forewarned: if the time limitations are ignored, you will not be able to file a lawsuit. So if you believe your injury stems from a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence, you should contact a qualified medical malpractice lawyer right away.

Michigan law also requires two specific items to initiate a medical malpractice claim:

  • An affidavit of merit signed by a health professional who’s in the same specialty as the defendant. Basically, the health professional reviews your case and attests that you have grounds to bring a claim.
  • A written notice of intent to sue, which must be served on the defendant at least 182 days before the lawsuit is actually filed.

After Filing A Complaint

Once the medical malpractice claim has been filed and the health care providers believed to cause the injury are notified of the suit, both sides will begin a somewhat lengthy process called discovery. During discovery, each side will request information, evidence, and related documents from the other, in an effort to gather the facts and build their cases. 

In most medical malpractice lawsuits, the parties will hire expert witnesses to consult on the case and present their medical opinions, and testify in court if the matter goes to trial.

Settling Out Of Court

The vast majority of lawsuits are settled out of court, and medical malpractice cases are no different. A settlement could be the result of an insurance company recognizing that it will likely not prevail at trial. Settlements also occur when both parties reach an agreement or simply decide not to litigate the case any further. Fortunately for the plaintiff, the settlement process is typically quicker than taking a lawsuit to trial.

No two medical malpractice cases are alike, nor is there a standard timeline for litigation a malpractice claim, but in every case, seeking the advice and representation of a seasoned and accomplished lawyer is an essential first step.

Matthew Curtis

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Matthew Curtis

Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.