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Malpractice Lawsuits and How to Deal With Them

As a skilled and highly trained professional like a doctor, dentist, nurse, or lawyer, you handle problems for clients on a daily basis. But, sometimes those clients aren’t happy with the work put in, or you make a mistake. In these cases, the client may want to file a malpractice claim. 

Before you panic, start an argument, or try to handle this new problem on your own, consider these suggestions for how to deal with a malpractice suit. 

Which Fields are at Risk for a Malpractice Lawsuit?

Before you start panicking about a potential malpractice lawsuit, it’s important to get a big picture view of things. There are some career fields that just tend to attract lawsuits because of the delicate or risky nature of the work involved. For instance, if you have a career in one of the following industries you might want to consider getting malpractice insurance to protect yourself from the worst:

  • Healthcare such as doctors, pharmacists, dentists, or nurses
  • Legal
  • Construction
  • Gambling & Casino Operation
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail

The Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Doctors have a much higher risk of facing a medical malpractice lawsuit at some point in their careers than those in other professions. In 2016, the American Medical Association released a survey showing that 68 out of every 100 physicians had a liability claim brought against them at some point. More recently, Medscape’s 2019 Malpractice Report found that 59% of physicians admitted to being named in at least one malpractice lawsuit.

What’s going on here? 

The medical industry is so prone to lawsuits because it happens to involve a complex interplay of life or death decisions, complicated health conditions and treatments, and increasingly high medical costs. Plus, some fields are more likely to see lawsuits because even small mistakes can lead to life changing outcomes. These are:

  • Obstetrics
  • Gynecology
  • Orthopedics
  • Surgery
  • Radiology
  • Oncology
  • Anesthesiology

Consider our guides to find a top malpractice insurance provider for different medical professions:

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice?

There are a few ways a doctor or someone in a related field could be exposed to a potential medical malpractice lawsuit. Generally, they include:

  • Failing to diagnose an illness using reasonable methods, or reaching the wrong diagnosis.
  • Incompetant treatment of the patient or the patient’s condition, or applying treatments in an inappropriate manner.
  • Failure to warn patients of the risks associated with a treatment or not getting the treatment.

How to Deal with a Malpractice Lawsuit

Whether you are a doctor, a lawyer, or in another skilled industry, it’s important to keep a cool head when dealing with a malpractice lawsuit. Thankfully, many malpractice claims fail to become lawsuits. For the most part, they are the result of a client or patient blowing off steam because they lost a case, didn’t want to pay the high cost for a home remodel, or were frustrated by the outcome of their medical treatment. Plus, the client will usually need to find a lawyer and pay to file the suit, which can be an untenable expense.

Even if the claim goes to court, it’s difficult for claimants to prove that their cases have merit in court. The justice system has a certain minimum standard that must be met for many cases to even be considered a viable malpractice claim. Claimants have to show that:

  • You had a duty to act on their behalf
  • You were negligent in your duties to the claimant
  • Your actions impacted the claimant’s life, health, or finances negatively

If you do end up being confronted with a professional malpractice lawsuit, here are a few things to do right away.

Be Careful if Admitting Fault in a Malpractice Lawsuit

Sometimes, clients just want an apology when a mistake has been made. Unfortunately, at other times the client’s attorney can use your apology as a guilty admission.

Notify clients whenever possible of incidents involving work you do for them. Just keep in mind that an apology could impact the outcome of a malpractice suit against you.

Consult With an Attorney If Being Sued in a Malpractice Lawsuit

If you are a lawyer, it’s really not a good idea to represent yourself in a case that could involve thousands of dollars in damages. When you first hear of a serious potential malpractice claim, reach out to an experienced attorney for advice. They can give you a more objective view on the situation, and provide legal advice for how to proceed. 

>>MORE: Top 5 Providers of Legal Malpractice Insurance & How Much It Costs

>>MORE: FAQs About Malpractice Insurance for Lawyers

Provide Your Client With a Copy of Their File

When a client comes to you with a claim, or asks for copies of your records, make a copy and give it to them. There may be the temptation to shut down and start fighting the client at every turn, but this won’t make your experience any easier. If the case proceeds to court the client will end up getting the documentation anyway. Plus, showing that you did everything possible for the client can help with your case later on.

Address Any Issues You Can With the Client

Communication is key when dealing with a potential malpractice claim. Try to address any issues that have led to the current situation with your client. You should also answer any reasonable questions to help the client feel better informed. 

There may come a point later on during the lawsuit when it’s best to limit communication, but early on you might be able to avoid a lawsuit through transparency. 

Notify Your Attorney Malpractice Insurance Provider

Last, but not least, you’ll need to notify your malpractice insurance provider of the claim. Every insurance company has different requirements when it comes to timing of claims’ notifications. Some companies want to be notified as soon as possible, even if the client just says they are going to sue you for malpractice. You might also be expected to notify the insurer as soon as an incident occurs. For instance, if your company’s computer servers are hacked and client data is stolen.

Your insurance paperwork will outline notification requirements in detail. So, be sure to review your paperwork to see what the insurer requires. Of course, if you don’t have a policy now, it’s a good idea to sign up for malpractice insurance as soon as possible to protect yourself in the future.

Final Thoughts:

  • Those in some career fields, like healthcare and legal, are more likely to face lawsuits.
  • Speak with a third-party attorney about any potential claim to get objective advice.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with disgruntled clients.
  • Provide copies of documentation and records when asked.
  • Let your malpractice insurance company know about the malpractice claim right away.
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