What Makes a Good Medical Malpractice Attorney?
One word sums up how many victims of medical malpractice feel: betrayed. A doctor they trusted to heal their pain instead made it worse. A doctor they believed could diagnose their illness instead treated them for a non-existent condition. A doctor they felt confident would exercise care during a surgery instead made, and tried to cover up, a sloppy error. And in too many cases, a doctor, nurse, or other health care practitioner who didn’t do a job correctly has never apologized, or acknowledged the error, or been held accountable.
Those feelings of betrayal push people to reach out to lawyers to find someone, anyone, who can help them get justice. The problem, they discover, is that it isn’t so easy to find a good medical malpractice lawyer these days. Over the years, many states, including Florida, have passed laws making it more difficult to sue for medical malpractice. As a result, fewer and fewer lawyers have the experience and resources to take—and more importantly, win—cases against health care providers. But some still do. The trick is finding them.
This blog post offers a primer on the challenges of finding a medical malpractice lawyer and how to overcome them. If you have more questions, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm today.
The Challenges of Medical Malpractice Claims in Florida
You would think that seeking compensation from a doctor who made a mistake that hurt you should be as straightforward as suing, say, a driver who caused a car accident that left you injured. For a long time, that was the case. But over the past several decades, insurance and medical industry lobbying groups have relentlessly pressed for tort reform laws around the country to make it more difficult to hold medical practitioners accountable for their wrongful actions. The driving force behind these laws? Money. Doctors don’t like paying high insurance premiums, and insurance companies do not enjoy paying large claims.
In Florida, the push for medical malpractice tort reform culminated in a 1985 law, since amended numerous times, called the Florida Comprehensive Medical Malpractice Reform Act. The law, as it currently stands, defines medical malpractice by a health care provider as a violation of the “prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider.”
To prevail in a claim for medical malpractice, an injured patient must show a causal connection between the provision of medical care and injury or death. The law makes clear that the existence of an injury, alone, does not prove a causal connection, unless a medical provider leaves a medical implement inside of you during a surgery, procedure, or diagnostic test.
That definition may seem simple enough (if somewhat narrow), but the law creates complications by requiring patients and their lawyers to follow specific procedures for investigating and justifying a potential claim, for notifying the health care provider of the potential claim, and for negotiating a potential settlement to the claim, all before you ever file any claim with a Florida court. The law also sets up strict time periods for completing these steps, and for filing a claim at the end of them. Skipping or mishandling any of these steps, or missing a deadline, can spell the end of a medical malpractice claim in Florida before it even gets started.
4 Characteristics to Look For in a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Because of how complicated medical malpractice law can be in Florida, we suggest you look for a lawyer with the following characteristics:
1. Familiarity With Florida Medical Malpractice Law and Procedure
The most basic requirement for any lawyer you hire to handle your medical malpractice claim should be a firm grasp of how to meet the complicated factual and procedural requirements imposed by Florida’s medical malpractice laws.
We can’t stress this enough. A Florida medical malpractice claim is very different from an ordinary personal injury claim. A lawyer who simply advertises for personal injury cases does not necessarily have the knowledge or experience to handle medical malpractice. Most lawyers will acknowledge a lack of medical malpractice experience, and refer anyone with a medical malpractice claim to a lawyer who has the necessary knowledge.
But some lawyers—maybe because they’re hungry for work—will claim to be able to represent you in a medical malpractice case without ever having handled one before. Avoid those lawyers at all costs. There is nothing worse than having a medical professional make a mistake that harms you, only to have an inexperienced lawyer make mistakes that leave you without a legal remedy.
How do you assure yourself that a lawyer has the necessary knowledge and experience? Ask the right questions. Not just “Do you handle medical malpractice?”, but also “How many medical malpractice cases have you handled recently?” Use these as your screening questions. If a lawyer can’t tell you he or she has represented multiple medical malpractice clients in the past several years, then keep looking.
2. Familiarity With the Medical Standard of Care Involved in Your Case
The core focus of any medical malpractice claim is whether a medical provider violated the standard of care in delivering medical services to you. Florida law defines the standard of care as “that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.” In other words, did your health care provider do an acceptable and reasonable job in your case, given the circumstances?
You probably see where we’re going with this. The next must-have for the lawyer you choose is a familiarity with the standard of care you should have received from your medical provider. This means you need a lawyer who doesn’t just know about medical malpractice law, but who also has a working knowledge of medical diagnosis and treatment in the general area of medicine involved in your case.
Don’t get us wrong. The lawyer you choose doesn’t also have to be a physician. But you need a lawyer who has at least a basic understanding of what health care providers did wrong in your case, how it affected you physically (not to mention emotionally and financially), and where to find additional information and support to investigate your case further. This is technical knowledge. Not all personal injury lawyers have it. When meeting with a potential medical malpractice lawyer, be sure to ask questions aimed at gauging the lawyer’s level of comfort with the concept of the standard of care for treating your particular medical condition.
3. An Appropriate Sense of Urgency and The Resources to Deliver
There is a relatively short time-window for pursuing medical malpractice claims in Florida, particularly when you figure in the pre-claim procedures mandated by state law. Look for a lawyer who appreciates the urgency of investigating your claim and has the in-house resources to jump on your case quickly and thoroughly.
There are lots of talented lawyers in Florida. Many of them manage to do an excellent job for their clients with a small team. But lawyers who can do a top-notch job for medical malpractice clients without a deep bench of legal and paralegal talent are few and far between. To give a client the best chance of recovering full compensation for a medical injury, a medical malpractice lawyer has to have the ability to act quickly, deploy resources effectively, absorb a tremendous number of medical-related information on a very short timetable. For the most part, only firms with larger, more experienced teams can handle that task.
When sizing up a medical malpractice attorney, try and get a sense for the size of the team that supports the lawyer in everyday medical malpractice work. What resources does the attorney have in-house? How strong is the attorney’s network of expert consultants who can provide detailed analysis of medical procedures and protocols? If you don’t see a team that can dive into your case right away, keep looking.
4. A Strong Reputation and Track Record of Success
Because medical malpractice cases in Florida occupy a particular niche in the legal world, it is important to hire a lawyer who has a strong reputation in that area and a proven track record of resolving cases for medical malpractice clients. Of course, there is never any guarantee that a medical malpractice case will result in a financial recovery. But having a lawyer on your side who is known for successful outcomes can give you some peace of mind that you are in good hands.
Just as importantly, a lawyer with a strong reputation gives you leverage when it comes to negotiating and litigating against insurance companies and defense lawyers. If your attorney lacks a reputation in medical malpractice cases, your opponents will like their chances against him in a courtroom, and will not offer top-dollar in settlement negotiations. In contrast, if your lawyer has a strong reputation, your opponents will know they have a serious fight on their hands—and that tends to lead to them opening their wallets a lot wider.
Nuts and Bolts: How to Actually Conduct Your Attorney Search
You may be wondering: “Okay, I get that a lawyer needs these characteristics, but where do I go to find someone like that?” We’re glad you asked.
First of all, start your search as soon as possible after a medical injury harms you or a loved one. It is no exaggeration to say that every day counts when it comes to giving yourself and your lawyer the time you need to investigate a medical malpractice claim. We can understand that talking to a lawyer might feel like an overreaction to your situation. But medical malpractice is one of those areas of law where it is better to be safe than sorry. It costs you nothing to have an early initial consultation with a lawyer, but it could cost you everything if you wait too long.
You can start your search by casting a wide net and Googling “medical malpractice attorney” together with the area where you live. Depending on the size of your community, that may turn up some hits. When it comes to medical malpractice, however, you may need to include larger Florida cities in your search to find an attorney with the experience and know-how you need.
Online legal directors also provide an easy way to begin your search. Avvo.com, and its parent site Martindale.com, provide attorney listings that you can filter by geography and practice area, for instance. The Florida Bar website also has a helpful directory of lawyers licensed to practice law in Florida that is searchable by practice area.
Finally, if someone you trust who has had a medical malpractice case of their own, or knows someone who has, or knows the local legal scene, you can also ask for a recommendation. Word-of-mouth is a powerful and effective way to find a lawyer, so long as you really trust the person you ask.
Ultimately, we recommend identifying three to five law firms who might fit the bill for your medical malpractice case and then scheduling a meeting with each of them. Initial meetings are always free. Use them as an employer would a job interview… because that is exactly what it is. The lawyer is interviewing for a job representing you. Use the characteristics above as a guideline to figure out who should get that job. Be demanding. It’s your right, especially when your financial future is on the line.
One final thing we can assure you. The best medical malpractice lawyers represent clients on a contingent fee basis in which you pay no money upfront, and the lawyer collects fees only from money recovered on your behalf. If a lawyer demands money upfront from you, that is a sign that (a) the lawyer doesn’t believe in your case, or (b) the lawyer does not represent medical malpractice clients very often or both.
If you have further questions about medical malpractice claims in Florida, contact an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney today.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765