Question: What are the costs and attorneys’ fees associated with a medical malpractice lawsuit?
Susan: Medical malpractice cases can be very costly to prosecute. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars. And the attorney will pay these costs and be reimbursed at the end of the lawsuit if we are successful. But the biggest cost I think in any medical malpractice case is expert witnesses. A doctor to simply review medical records can charge $300 to $500 an hour. If they come in and give a deposition, the deposition may cost thousands of dollars; and if they come in and testify at trial, they are giving up a day of their practice, so they might charge $10,000 to testify a day at trial. So you can see if you have five of six experts on a case how the costs can go up very rapidly and you need these experts to prove your case. Records, duplication of records can get expensive in these cases. And depositions can get expensive. Every time a deposition is taken, the transcript is typed up by the court reporter and there is a cost associated with that. So that is cost. The other element is attorneys’ fees. In January, 2013, a new law was signed by the Governor in Illinois that caps attorneys’ fees at one third.
Question: Are doctors required to carry malpractice insurance?
Susan: There is no statutory requirement in Illinois for a doctor to carry malpractice insurance and it’s not tied to licensure as you might expect. I know that my Dad recently renewed his driver’s license and he has to show evidence of insurance when he did that. Not so with medical malpractice. But in actuality, almost all doctors do carry malpractice insurance. And it’s a requirement usually to get staff privileges at a hospital. A hospital will make sure they have medical malpractice insurance and it’s not a concern if you go to some of the larger healthcare institutions that actually employ the doctors because hospitals to carry ample insurance.
Question: What is the conspiracy of silence?
Susan: It’s a very good question and it is a very real phenomenon out there. Often times, physicians who will review records as an expert will be happy to review the records and help us behind the scenes, but when it comes to giving an opinion in public or taking the stand at trial, they don’t want to do that. Or, we may have a client that comes to us and they will tell us that their new doctor is very critical of their old doctor and will help their case. They may actually tell the client, go see a lawyer. But then when we contact them, it’s a different story. Or in a deposition, they clam up. I think it’s very hard for a doctor to testify against a colleague. They might see this doctor three weeks from now at a professional meeting, and it could be very uncomfortable and very difficult. And it could affect referral patterns. Many doctors depend on referrals for their patient populations. So they don’t want to do something that could harm their business. And some doctors have actually been criticized or persecuted by other members of their profession for being an expert witness. So this conspiracy of silence is simply doctors refusing to publicly point out the negligence of another doctor. It’s difficult for a doctor to get up there and say that another colleague has committed malpractice and that’s why we are grateful for the courageous doctors that will do that on behalf of our clients.
Question: What if anything can I do to prevent myself and my family from being victims of medical malpractice?
Susan: That’s a very good question. I think the most important advice that I could give was that you have to be an involved and savvy healthcare consumer. You have to be an active member of the healthcare team. Do research, get on the internet and research a potential physician you are going to see. Most physicians have privileges at hospitals. Hospitals have websites. You can get on a hospital website and learn about the doctor’s training and experience, where he has practiced before. The internet, I think has changed what a patient can do now before going for healthcare. I encourage you to get on the internet, on Google. It doesn’t have to be complex medical research. Google is wonderful; Wikipedia is great. It will give you an idea of what your disease is about and what the treatment is. Knowledge is power. Another thing that you can do is determine if your doctor is board certified. After training, a doctor can go on and take an additional examination that recognizes special competency in an area. For example, a doctor can be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and they have to sit through a special exam. Now they are not required to be board certified, but that is an indication that they have special competency and expertise.
Question: Any final thoughts?
Susan: I again, would encourage your listeners to be very active participants in their healthcare and if they do feel that there has been malpractice in their treatment, contact a professional and have their case reviewed.
Susan Capra, a partner at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, discusses medical malpractice. Susan is also a registered nurse and has combined her medical knowledge with her legal education to help those who have been injured by healthcare professionals. She understands all that it takes to put together a successful medical malpractice case because these matters are highly complex.