Why Do Medical Care Providers Fight So Hard in Malpractice Cases?

“Pick your battles” - This common saying suggests that it is imprudent to fight over every disagreement, and has relevance in political circles, romantic relationships, and with business managers. Even lawyers give this advice to clients on occasion, especially when the cost of litigation could far exceed the benefits, such as when dealing with domestic law or minor business disputes.

But when it comes to medical malpractice claims, even when the patient presents a reasonable claim, it seems to many that doctors and other medical care providers choose to fight a disproportionate amount of the time. In this article, we’ll examine some of the reasons why.

Doctors May Have Added Authority Under Medical Malpractice Insurance Policies

Insurance policies often play a role in the way in which any type of personal injury lawsuit is settled or tried. Consider, for example, an automobile accident. If you get sued after a car wreck, your automobile liability insurance provider will provide a lawyer and a defense. If the insurer decides it is best to settle the case, it will - and the insurer does not need your permission to do so.

However, medical malpractice insurance policies can be different. They sometimes have a provision which requires the doctor (the insured) to consent to the settlement. If the doctor withholds consent, the settlement will likely be blocked.

Sometimes, a doctor will fight simply because the doctor is convinced that he or she is right. However, there can be other motivations. For example, the doctor may fear that admission of liability will make it impossible to obtain malpractice insurance in the future, or that the price of the policy will increase dramatically.

Physicians may also fear harm to their reputations. In Oregon, for example, investigations of doctors and malpractice claims are maintained in a searchable electronic database that is available to the public.

Damage Amounts Can Be High

Medical malpractice can result in death and serious bodily injury. In fact, some research suggests that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. In addition to death, medical malpractice can cause life-long disability, enormous expenses and lost wages, and untold pain and suffering. Thus, settlement awards and verdict amounts can be very high. When medical care providers are covered by insurance, the insurer, who seeks to maximize profits, may have an aversion to any kind of quick payment of large sums of money.

Plaintiffs Have the Burden of Proof

In medical malpractice cases, plaintiffs have the burden of proving their cases by a preponderance of the evidence. And let’s face it – medical issues are often complicated. This means that the plaintiff will have to martial medical evidence, including expert witnesses, that can prove that the medical care provider violated the standard of care and that the negligence caused harm to the patient. So, in some instances, the defendant (and insurance company), knowing that this standard can be difficult to meet, may decide that the best strategy is to sit back until the plaintiff and his or her attorney demonstrate that they can present evidence capable of meeting this evidentiary burden.

The Medical Malpractice Insurer May Believe it Has a Tactical Advantage

When a medical care provider is sued, the malpractice insurer will provide its insured with legal representation. If the insurer and the defense attorney believe they have a tactical advantage in the case, they may choose to fight.

One example could be a conclusion by the insurance company that the injured patient is represented by an inexperienced or inadequate medical malpractice lawyer. Similarly, knowing that it is very expensive and time-consuming to pursue a medical malpractice case, the insurer may conclude that the plaintiff and his or her attorney do not have adequate resources to see the claim through until the end. Therefore, it is essential to retain appropriate representation.

Call with Questions

At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we believe that it is important to hold medical professionals accountable for their negligence so that others in the industry will be diligent in protecting all Oregonians. Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys have the resources, knowledge, and experience to investigate medical malpractice claims and to represent victims until the case is settled or until the conclusion of litigation. And if you just have questions, that’s fine, too. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer them.


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