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Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

medical coatsFiling a claim for medical negligence in Cape Cod or elsewhere in Massachusetts can be a complicated endeavor. It pays to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after suspecting that you or someone close to you has been hurt by an act of medical malpractice.

It takes a considerable amount of time to properly investigate and substantiate a medical malpractice claim. If the appropriate paperwork is not completed in a timely fashion – or if the offer of proof submitted to the medical malpractice tribunal does not meet the requirements of Massachusetts medical malpractice law – the case is subject to dismissal, even if the plaintiff was severely injured or even passed away because of a medical provider’s mistake.

Facts of the Case

stethoscopeUnlike car accident or slip and fall cases, Cape Cod medical malpractice lawsuits require that the plaintiff make an offer of proof before a special tribunal. If the tribunal does not find that the plaintiff’s offer is adequate, the plaintiff may post a bond within a certain time period, or he or she may appeal the case to the appellate court for a review of the tribunal’s finding.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent (unreported) appellate case was the personal representative of the estate of a man who died after suffering a full cardiac arrest in 2012. The man, who was 46 years old at the time of his death, had been under the care of the defendant physician (a primary care physician). The plaintiff’s complaint sounded in medical negligence, including allegations that the defendant’s failure to “appreciate and address” the decedent’s heart disease violated the applicable standard of care and caused his premature death.

When a Cape Cod medical malpractice lawsuit goes to trial, there are usually multiple witnesses who testify in front of the jury. This includes not only the parties to the case but also the expert witnesses who are retained by each side to render an opinion as to the applicable standard of care, whether the defendant violated that standard, and the injuries suffered by the victim if so.

Sometimes, a particular witness cannot be present at trial, so his or her testimony is secured outside the courtroom, in advance, via a deposition. However, there are limitations on when a deposition may be used in lieu of live testimony.

Facts of the Case

handshake agreement
In most Cape Cod medical malpractice lawsuits, the defendant health care provider has a policy of professional negligence liability coverage in place to protect his or her personal assets in the event of a judgment against him or her. Typically, the medical professional is only personally liable to the extent that a judgment is awarded by a jury in excess of the policy limits.

A recent case raised the issue of whether a medical malpractice insurance company must obtain permission from its insured before settling a claim within the policy limits.

Facts of the Case

expert reportMedical malpractice lawsuits are expensive and procedurally difficult. This is not to say that a plaintiff cannot be successful in an attempt to hold a negligent doctor liable in a particular case, but only that doing so can be much more difficult than, for example, holding a negligent driver liable in a motor vehicle accident case.

One of the main reasons for the difficulty in pursuing a medical malpractice case is the requirement for expert proof as to the medial professional’s deviation from the standard of care.  Just as medical care itself is costly, so, too, is hiring a medical expert to testify as to a mistake made in the plaintiff’s treatment.

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pregnant woman

Under Massachusetts medical malpractice law, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant health care provider violated the applicable standard of care.

First, however, the plaintiff must find an expert witness who is willing to testify in court as to what the standard of care required – and how the defendant’s actions or inaction violated this standard.

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X ray

Purportedly to combat the growing problem of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law (codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 60B) several years ago, requiring the plaintiff in a medical negligence case to submit an “offer of proof” to a three-member reviewing tribunal after filing a formal lawsuit against a doctor or another medical professional. The tribunal consists of a judge, a physician (or another health care provider), and an attorney.

If the tribunal determines that the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to raise a “legitimate question of liability,” the matter proceeds toward trial. If not, the plaintiff has the option of posting a filing bond of $6,000 (in most cases, although that amount can vary) or having his or her case dismissed.

If the case is dismissed, the plaintiff may appeal that decision to a higher court for review.

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blind justice

When a litigant who is unsatisfied with a trial court’s ruling files an appeal, the burden is on that appellant to convince the higher court that a mistake was made in the court below.

This can be a difficult task, especially when one of the grounds for the appeal is the alleged bias or favor of the trial court judge.

Facts of the Case

In a recent malpractice case decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiffs were the parents of an infant who died just days after her birth. The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and wrongful death claims resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the defendant medical providers. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion for a new trial, alleging that the trial judge had made various mistakes in her evidentiary rulings and instructions to the jury. The plaintiffs also averred that the trial court judge had engaged in “persistent favoritism and biased conduct” toward the defendants.

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calendar on deskIn order to seek compensation from a person or business for injuries caused by negligence, the aggrieved party must file suit within the applicable statute of limitations. In Massachusetts, the limitations period for medical malpractice is three years.

In cases in which a statute of repose is also in effect, the plaintiff must also file his or her case within this period. Under the Massachusetts statute of repose, the plaintiff must file suit not only within three years after the cause of action accrued (the moment at which the plaintiff knew or should have known about the alleged act of negligence) but also within seven years of the alleged act or omission (except in cases involving foreign objects left inside the patient’s body).

Unless both of these time limits are met, the plaintiff cannot prevail.

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Under Massachusetts law, a person who alleges that his or her physician committed an act of medical negligence must submit an offer of proof to a medical malpractice tribunal in order for his or her lawsuit to move forward. If the tribunal decides that there is not sufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim, the plaintiff has the option of posting a cash bond in order to proceed to trial. The bond, of course, is designed to deter patients from proceeding.

Alternatively, the plaintiff can allow the trial court to dismiss the case and then file an appeal, as happened in a recently decided case. An appeals court has the authority to decide whether or not the tribunal was correct in its decision regarding the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s evidence.

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