Medical Malpractice

What are "Costs" in a Medical Malpractice Case?

By David Berg, Attorney
A sound medical malpractice case will hopefully result in fair compensation for the plaintiff, but it can also mean spending a lot of money to reach a favorable outcome.

A lawyer's "costs" in any medical malpractice case are the firm's out of pocket expenses necessary to build a successful case and move it along from inception to resolution. These costs are typically passed along to the client if the case reaches a favorable outcome (meaning there's a settlement or court judgment in favor of the client). Read on for the details.

Common Costs in a Medical Malpractice Case

A lawyer’s costs in a medical malpractice case will typically include things like:

  • court filing fees
  • sheriff’s or constable’s fee for service of legal papers
  • medical record requests
  • deposition transcripts
  • expert witness fees
  • the lawyer’s travel for depositions, mediation, and court appearances (which can include mileage, tolls, cab fare, hotels, and meals)
  • witness fees for trial subpoenas
  • mediation fees
  • postage and overnight mail
  • online legal research
  • photocopying
  • trial and jury consultants

Let’s look at these costs and match them with some ballpark dollar amounts. The court filing fee is simply the fee that the court charges to file the lawsuit. This is anywhere from $200 to $500, depending on the court. After a lawsuit is filed, it must be formally served, generally by a local sheriff or constable. This fee is generally not more than $100.

Medical malpractice cases generally require a lot of medical record requests. The lawyer has to request all of the client’s relevant medical records and bills from each of the client’s health care providers. This can often add up to 15 to 20 separate requests. The bills for all of these requests might be as much as $1,000.

Medical malpractice cases also typically require a lot of depositions, sometimes five or ten. Deposition transcripts are expensive. Each transcript might cost $500 or more; so the total deposition bill for a medical malpractice case might be three or four thousand dollars. The lawyers also have to travel to these depositions, as well as to mediations and court appearances (not to mention meetings with clients and witnesses). Lawyers charge for travel, and, if the travel includes out of state or overnight visits, that can get expensive. It is not unusual for travel expenses to exceed a couple of thousand dollars in big cases.

If the case goes into suit, it will likely go to mediation at some point. If the case uses a private mediator, that might be $500 to $2,000. If the case goes to trial, the lawyer might need to subpoena witnesses, which could run another $500. Postage, overnight mail, online legal research, and photocopying could be another $1,000 or so.

Lawyers will incur most of the same fees we've discussed here in any type of personal injury case, but medical malpractice cases are typically far more expensive to litigate when compared with the average personal injury case. This is because medical malpractice cases require costly expert witnesses in order to help establish that medical negligence was the cause of the plaintiff's harm, and to establish the extent of that harm. (More: How Do I Prove Medical Malpractice?)

Any medical malpractice case will require at least one, if not two or more, medical, vocational, and economic experts. And they will be expensive. A lawyer could easily pay $50,000 for expert witness fees without blinking an eye in a big medical malpractice case.

And, finally, in a big medical malpractice case, a lawyer might use trial and jury consultants. These are experts (not witnesses) who advise the lawyer on trial strategy and jury selection, and help create exhibits like Powerpoint presentations and animations. These expert could easily be another $10,000 or more.

So, putting it all together, you can see how a lawyer’s costs in a medical malpractice case can easily exceed $100,000.

How are Costs Paid in a Medical Malpractice Case?

A standard contingency fee agreement in a personal injury or medical malpractice case usually provides that the lawyer will pay for these costs up front, but will be entitled to recover them from any settlement or judgment that the client may get in the case. This is something you'll want to discuss with any lawyer you're thinking about hiring. (More: Selecting the Right Medical Malpractice Lawyer.)

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