Medical Malpractice: How Long Will My Case Take?


12.6months 12.6mo

On average, it took readers just over a year to resolve their medical malpractice claims.

  •  On average, it took readers just over a year to resolve their medical malpractice claims.

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If you have a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or other health care provider, how long will it take to resolve your case? We surveyed readers from across the U.S. to find out about their recent medical malpractice cases and how long the process took, until they either received a check or learned they wouldn’t get any compensation. Here’s what we found out.

When Faster Isn’t Better

Nearly half of our readers resolved their medical malpractice claims in six months or less, while the process took over a year for more than a third of our readers. It’s natural to want things to go more quickly when you’ve been harmed by a medical mistake, but a look at the numbers shows that a fast resolution doesn’t necessarily mean a good result.

In fact, cases that resulted in a payout for the patient (an out-of-court settlement or a court award after a trial) took longer to conclude than unsuccessful claims. Half of readers with successful outcomes resolved their cases in seven to twelve months, while more than a third took longer.

The results are even starker when viewed from a different angle: Of those readers who resolved their claims in six months or less, only 3% received a payout, compared to 20% of those whose cases lasted longer. As these results demonstrate, it usually takes time to achieve a positive outcome.

How Having a Lawyer Affects Duration

In our readers’ experience, hiring a medical malpractice lawyer usually resulted in a longer claim process. On average, those who hired an attorney resolved their cases in 17.8 months, compared to 10.2 months for those who handled their claim on their own. This isn’t surprising: It takes time for lawyers to gather evidence, hire and work with expert witnesses, and negotiate with malpractice insurance companies. That extra time usually pays off. Readers with legal representation were nearly twice as likely to receive a payout as the patients who proceeded without a lawyer on their side.

Does Filing a Lawsuit Drag Out a Case?

As with hiring a lawyer, it can take longer to resolve a medical malpractice claim if you file a lawsuit against the medical provider. Readers who took this step reported average resolution times of 20.2 months, compared to 11.4 months for those who didn’t file suit. Even when no trial takes place—because the parties reach a settlement or the case is dismissed—filing a lawsuit triggers the formal “discovery” process, which includes hiring expert witnesses, obtaining and reviewing medical records, and scheduling depositions (formal question-and-answer sessions with the medical providers and other witnesses).

Here again, our survey showed that the additional time, effort, and expense was worth it. Readers who filed a lawsuit were more than four times as likely to receive as payout as those who didn’t sue. (For more information on proving your case and increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome, see our article on improving the chances of winning a medical malpractice claim.)

Delays in Resolving Claims

Most of our readers said they had experienced delays in resolving their cases. Often, the holdup was due to the fact that the patient required ongoing medical treatment for the consequences of the health provider’s mistake. But nearly eight in ten of those who experienced delays said they’d had trouble finding an attorney to represent them. The majority of readers were never able to enlist the help of a lawyer. And of those who ultimately gained legal representation, nearly half told us they contacted three or more different attorneys before they hired one. Their persistence generally led to better results in the end. (For more details, see our article on finding a medical malpractice lawyer.)

About This Report

The data referenced above is from Martindale-Nolo Research's 2017 medical malpractice study, which analyzed survey responses from readers who had medical malpractice claims and had researched hiring a lawyer. The names of any quoted readers have been changed to protect their privacy.

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