Can You Sue Doctors in Other Countries for Medical Malpractice?

With constant improvements in transportation technology, along with massive decreases in the cost of international travel, the old saying that “the world is getting smaller” is truer than ever before. The wealthy have long enjoyed the benefits of international travel, but now “average” Americans can easily travel, too. Moreover, companies like SpaceX and Boeing envision a future in which you can travel almost anywhere in the world in less than an hour.

While such an idea once sounded like pure science fiction, it would present enormous opportunities in business, leisure, and medicine. Imagine, someone with a rare disease or medical condition could quickly travel anywhere in the world to obtain the best treatment option. In fact, this is already occurring, as people travel to numerous places for both medical and dental treatment. But, as we all know, sometimes medical treatment goes wrong, and this raises an interesting question. Can you sue doctors in other countries for medical malpractice?

Who Needs to Worry About Suing Foreign Doctors?

Certainly, anyone who travels internationally could foresee a circumstance leading to medical treatment abroad. Automobile accidents, heart attacks, illness, and other unexpected medical emergencies can occur overseas during travel, just like they do at home. Moreover, the concept of “medical tourism” is popular with millions of Americans. Medical tourism refers to people that visit a country other than their own for medical treatment. Sometimes, people go abroad to seek treatment, such as a particular drug for a particular disease, that is not permitted in the United States. Other instances include people visiting countries that have well-trained doctors who can perform surgeries, both elective and otherwise, at a cost much less expensive than in the United States. In fact, savings can be as much as 88%, even after factoring in the cost of travel!

Where Do You Sue When a Foreign Doctor Commits Medical Malpractice?

First, and perhaps of greatest interest to U.S. citizens, when a doctor commits malpractice overseas, in most instances it will not be possible to obtain jurisdiction to sue the doctor in an Oregon court. There may be rare circumstances in which a doctor has the contacts with an American jurisdiction required to sue here, but that will be the rare exception. Moreover, even if a patient obtains a judgment in the United States, it may be very difficult to enforce the judgment in a foreign country. Ultimately, a malpractice victim will likely be faced with pursuing a claim abroad.

Difficulties Suing Abroad

The manner in which medical malpractice is addressed in countries around the world varies widely. For example, many countries do not permit jury trials. In these locations, judges or administrators may make the final decision. Moreover, malpractice awards, even when they are given, are often much lower than amounts received in the United States, giving rise to the argument that injured patients may not be fully compensated for their losses in overseas jurisdictions. Plus, there are logistical difficulties. A foreign lawsuit necessitates retention of a foreign attorney and physical presence in the foreign country for legal proceedings. Importantly, many foreign countries do not permit attorneys to take cases on a contingency fee basis.

Consult with an Attorney

We certainly understand that some people have a great need for the cost savings available for medical treatment abroad. But it’s also important to consider the protections available in a foreign jurisdiction if something goes wrong. After all, our American legal system is built on the foundation that society is safeguarded when wrongdoers are held legally accountable for their actions. If you have questions about medical malpractice, please call the experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield and we will be happy to answer them.

 

Helpful Links:

Washington University Global Studies Law Review article – “Medical Tourism and the Legal Impediments to Recovery in Cases of Medical Malpractice” - https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1062&context=law_globalstudies

Travel Weekly legal article – “Victims of medical tourism malpractice likely to sue agents” - http://www.travelweekly.com/Mark-Pestronk/Victims-of-medical-tourism-malpractice-likely-to-sue-agents 

 


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