Victims of medical negligence, particularly children, the elderly, and the poor, may never get their day in court, simply because no lawyer will take their case. According to an article in Pro Publica, which summarized the findings of several studies, nine out of ten patients who seek a medical malpractice attorney will not find one. About 95% of medical malpractice cases involving real harm to the patients are rejected by attorneys because the potential economic damages are not enough to offset the high cost of the litigation process.
A medical malpractice case can cost a law firm anywhere from $20,000 to $300,000 or more. This means that only a large settlement or award will make the case worthwhile, from the attorneys’ perspective. One study found that more than 50% of attorneys will not take a case, regardless of the likelihood of success, if the potential damages are less than $250,000. Almost no attorney will take a case in which potential damages are less than $50,000, even if the chance of winning is 95%.
Poor and Vulnerable Are Most Harmed by High Litigation Costs
Most medical malpractice attorneys do not collect any fees until and unless the case is won or settled, at which time they generally receive 1/3 of the damages as a fee. The amount of money awarded to a victorious plaintiff is mainly determined by calculating the plaintiff’s lost earnings, as well as medical bills and future costs associated with the injury. These are known as economic damages (as distinguished from pain and suffering and other types of damages). The plaintiff’s number of dependents will also factor into the amount of damages awarded.
The process for determining damages means that plaintiffs with high salaries can potentially wind up with the highest awards or settlements. On the flip side, people with minimal income or dependents (such as children, the elderly, the poor, and the unemployed) can expect much lower damage awards. Studies show that people who do not earn large salaries, and therefore do not have a lot of lost earnings, have a great deal of trouble finding attorneys to take their cases.
Effectively, our least powerful citizens are further marginalized by being shut out of the justice system and denied the compensation to which they are entitled to. The elderly in particular, because they generally have small incomes and no dependents, find it very difficult to convince medical malpractice attorneys to take their cases. This is true despite the fact that the elderly are the most likely people to have contact with the health care system, and therefore to suffer injuries resulting from medical malpractice.
What to Do if You Have Been a Victim of Medical Negligence
If you or a loved has been a victim of medical negligence, regardless of your age or income status, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they can help you seek the compensation you deserve.