In the Chicago area, dozens of medical facilities provide treatment for those suffering injuries or illnesses. These facilities must compensate victims of medical errors made by their doctors or medical staff. The medical malpractice claims process offers an avenue for victims to seek compensation, either by a negotiated settlement or a court.
While all personal injury claims are complex, few claims are as difficult as a medical malpractice claim. These cases are complicated due to the matrix of medical and legal arenas. An experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer can provide the experience needed to secure their claimant's right to recover the compensation they deserve after suffering from medical error. Unfortunately, many individuals do not know how or where to find an attorney with the necessary medical malpractice experience. Below is a look at some essential considerations when searching for a good Chicago medical malpractice lawyer.
The Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations refers to the time the claimant has to file the claim as a lawsuit in court if the at-fault party's medical malpractice insurance provider fails to compensate the claim. This deadline is extremely important to the case, as failing to file a claim before the statute of limitations expires forfeits the right to use the court process when seeking compensation for the claim. Without the ability to use the court system, claimants lose their enforcement mechanism against the insurance provider.
For most Illinois personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the injury. However, many medical malpractice claims involve injuries that are not immediately discoverable, making it extraordinarily difficult to file a claim within this time frame. Because of this, medical malpractice claimants have up to four years to file the claim after the injury.
Claims involving injuries incurred by children due to medical error have an eight-year statute of limitations if the parents file the claim on the child's behalf. This longer period grants the additional time needed to determine the effects experienced by the child from their injury as they grow and develop. Children whose parents do not file a medical malpractice claim on their behalf can choose to toll the statute of limitations until they reach 18, when they may file the claim on their own.
The Affidavit of Merit
Medical malpractice claimants in Illinois and several other states must submit an affidavit of merit along with their legal claim. This affidavit testifies that the claimant's attorney consulted about the case with a medical professional experienced in the medical practice area that is the subject of the claim. From this consultation, the medical professional determined that the claim has merit.
For those unable to obtain this affidavit of merit before the statute of limitations expires, the court may grant an additional 90 days after the filing of the claim to obtain it.
The Free Case Evaluation: Your Opportunity to Interview an Attorney
Once you've determined that you need a personal injury attorney with experience in medical malpractice claims, it's time to narrow down your options. Many attorneys throughout the U.S. represent that they assist clients with medical malpractice cases. Yet, not all have the passion or confidence to regularly accept these challenging cases and who will go to court if needed.
Most personal injury lawyers—including those who work on medical malpractice claims—offer free case evaluations. This opportunity is a time to discuss your case with an experienced attorney, ask questions about the legal process, and learn more about the attorney's experience working with cases like yours. Consider it an opportunity to interview qualified applicants to determine the best fit between your claim and the attorney's skills.
Questions to Ask During the Free Case Evaluation
If you're using the free case evaluation to determine whether the attorney you're meeting with has the skills needed to properly assist you with your claim, there are many questions you can ask them. It is important to feel comfortable with the notion of asking the attorney these questions without worrying that you will offend them. Attorneys understand the importance of clients' comfort with their chosen legal counsel.
These questions include:
- What are your fees? Personal injury attorneys generally use a contingent fee billing method that allows the claimant to wait until there is a successful resolution to the claim before paying for the attorney's services. However, it is important to clarify how the attorney bills for their time and have them explain the contingent fee process completely.
- How many cases like mine have you worked on? How many resolved through settlement? How many resolved through litigation? All of these questions allow the attorney to discuss their experience with you.
- What is your feeling about litigation? Some attorneys only take cases they believe can resolve through settlement. It is important to find an attorney who is comfortable fighting for your right to the maximum compensation available for your claim, whether that fight takes place in negotiations or through litigation.
- How much time do you have to deal with my case? While many personal injury attorneys seek cases that can resolve quickly through settlements, many simultaneously take on a high number of these easy cases. This practice disadvantages claimants if their claim is difficult to resolve and requires extra effort that their attorney cannot spare.
- How long does it take to resolve a medical malpractice claim, and how much is my claim worth? Do not be surprised or disappointed if your attorney cannot definitively answer these questions, as it is impossible to determine how long the process will take. Likewise, until you've reached maximum medical improvement and the attorney can consider all factors impacting a claim's value—such as the availability of insurance and the presence of permanent disabilities arising from the injury—they can't tell you the value of your claim. However, asking these questions allows you to determine the attorney's comfort level with claim valuations and settlement negotiations and share their legal strategy.
- Who will be my primary source of contact during the claims process? One skill that an experienced medical malpractice attorney brings to their client's claim is strong communication, which is needed to negotiate a settlement, explain how the accident occurred in court, and explain the process to the claimant. Unfortunately, some medical malpractice attorneys do not regularly update a client on their case progress. Your attorney should provide you with contact information so that you can ask questions and get updates on your claim progress.
In addition to obtaining the answers to these questions, you should ask the attorney if they can provide references from past clients who can explain their personal experiences with the attorney. Again, an attorney is not going to be offended if you request references, just as you would not be offended by the expectations of references when interviewing for a job.
The Services Your Attorney Should Provide During the Medical Malpractice Claims Process
Medical malpractice claims in Illinois feature some of the highest payouts in the nation for this type of claim, with an average settlement amount per claim of more than $714,000. However, payouts vary depending on factors such as the specialty involved in the error, the injury's severity, and the level of negligence leading to the claim. While punitive damages are unavailable in medical malpractice claims, it is often easier to prove claims that feature a high level of negligence than those involving an error made from a judgment call that could have gone either direction.
As you likely noticed, many of the questions you should ask when hiring a Chicago medical malpractice attorney involve whether they have the experience you need.
To obtain the compensation that properly compensates you for the injury you suffered at the hands of a negligent health care provider, your attorney will provide services that can include:
- Guiding you throughout the process to make essential decisions about your claim, such as whether to accept an offered settlement.
- Determining all sources of liability and the accessible insurance resources to obtain compensation for you. Most doctors work as independent contractors with privileges to provide their services to local health care facilities. They provide their independent medical malpractice insurance and become the liable party if they were responsible for the error or were providing supervision of a health care employee who made the error that resulted in injury. Health care employees such as nurses, nursing assistants, and physician's assistants are typically hospital employees and work under the hospital's medical malpractice policy.
- Managing communication with the at-fault party's medical malpractice insurer to protect the value of your claim from common insurance tactics and keep the conversation focused on negotiating a fair settlement.
- Managing your claim to ensure your right to use the court process by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
- Understanding the medical documentation needed to prove your claim and justify its value.
- Consulting a medical professional about the merit of your claim to include the required affidavit of merit.
- Providing litigation services to ensure that a judge or jury has ample information about the error, who was responsible for it, and the financial and psychological consequences you incurred due to the medical provider's negligence.
If you need a good Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, call one near you today for your free case evaluation.