We’re fortunate to live and work in Maine. We have access to excellent hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare professionals.
But just like the rest of America, Maine’s healthcare system is far from perfect. Doctors often don’t spend enough time with patients. There are communication breakdowns. Doctors, nurses, and other medical providers face increasing pressure to cut costs. As a result, providers sometimes fail to meet the standards of care they are legally required to meet. When this happens, patients can be seriously injured or killed.
Medical malpractice lawyers stand up for patients and fight to make sure doctors and hospitals put safety first.
In Part 1 of our “Hiring a Medical Malpractice Lawyer” series, we’ll look at common emotions people experience when they contact us. In this article, we answer 10 of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Q: When should I contact a medical malpractice lawyer?
A: Some medical errors are obvious, such as when a surgical team leaves an instrument inside a patient, or a surgeon operates on the wrong body part.
But most cases of medical negligence are not as obvious. Sometimes a patient or a family member just “has a feeling” that something was not right with their medical care, and they want someone to review the facts. Perhaps you suffered an injury from medical treatment, and are wondering whether you received proper care. Or a loved one died in a hospital or nursing home under questionable circumstances.
If you’ve suffered harm and have any doubts about whether your medical care was below the accepted standards, you should reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer. We can help determine if your treatment was appropriate, if your healthcare provider fialed you in any way or they neglected to disclose important information.
Q: How do I choose a malpractice lawyer in Maine, and what questions should I ask?
A: There are several factors to consider when hiring a medical malpractice lawyer. First, make sure you choose a lawyer and firm with a proven record of success in cases like yours. Second, trust your instincts. You need to have a high level of comfort with the person you choose to represent you, and his or her staff.
Many lawyers claim to handle medical malpractice cases, but in fact do not have expertise in this complex area of the law. Remember that the choice is up to you. You don’t have to hire the first (or even second or third) lawyer you interview.
If you’re considering working with a lawyer at Berman & Simmons, we’re happy to speak with you with no commitment required.
Here are a few questions you should ask:
- Have you had success representing clients in cases similar to mine?
- Do you only specialize in medical malpractice cases, or do you represent clients in other types of disputes?
- Does your firm have the financial resources to take on my case?
- What are some of the results you have obtained?
Q: How much will a lawyer cost me? How do your fees work?
A: The lawyers at Berman & Simmons work on a contingency basis. That means you pay nothing up front and nothing unless we settle or win your case. We will evaluate your situation free of charge. This is true even if we decide you don’t have a valid claim.
If we do take your case and we successfully resolve it, a percentage of the compensation goes to pay for our costs and the work done by our legal team (i.e. record gathering, filing fees, document handling, travel, etc.).
Q: What do I prepare for the first call or meeting with a medical malpractice lawyer?
A: If you have detailed notes about what happened to you, and perhaps even some medical records, that’s great. But those aren’t necessary. Really all you need is to be yourself, speak with us honestly, and be willing to tackle your problems with us.
We’ll ask you to explain to us in your own words what happened and how your life has been affected. Call us, fill out the simple form on our website, or stop by one of our offices in Portland, Lewiston, or Bangor to start the process. Initial conversations between potential clients and our staff members are often done over the phone.
Q: How will you know if I have a case?
A: After the initial call or meeting, our most important task is to determine whether or not you have a valid claim.
If we believe you may have a valid claim, we will obtain all relevant medical records on your behal. If necessary, we will conduct in-depth research about your particular condition, medical history and treatments. Also, we may have your records reviewed by leading doctors and other medical experts.
It’s important to remember that not every negative medical outcome equates to malpractice. We will need to prove that the medical provider failed to comply with accepted standards of practice in diagnosing or treating your condition, injury, or disease. We will also need to prove that this failure resulted in harm to you.
Q: Will I need to speak with the doctor or healthcare practitioner I’m considering suing?
A: Absolutely not. You will not have to confront your healthcare provider or medical facility. Your attorney and his or her staff members will take on that responsibility.
Q: What are the steps of a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maine?
A: The first step is for us to file a Notice of Claim against the defendants. The next step is called the discovery period, in which the sides gather evidence and seek the opinions of various medical experts. Discovery includes depositions of the key people involved in your case.
Before filing a lawsuit in court, we are required by Maine law to first present the case to a Pre-litigation Screening Panel. The opinions of the panel members, which include a local medical provider, a local lawyer, and a Panel Chair, often determine whether or not we can proceed with the case.
If we clear the hurdle of the screening panel, the next step is to file the lawsuit in Superior Court. We will then determine if your case can be resolved through a pre-trial settlement, or if the case will proceed to trial, where the dispute would be decided by a jury, or in some cases a Superior Court justice.
IMAGE: Attorney Benjamin Gideon
Q: How long will the process take?
A: Every case is different, and there is no way to predict how long it will take for your case to be resolved. Some cases are resolved in a matter of months, while the most complex and challenging cases can span several years. The vast majority of cases, however, are resolved before a trial.
The overall goal is to make sure you receive fair compensation for your injuries, whether that comes in the form of a pre-trial settlement, or with a jury verdict in your favor. Insurance companies and defense attorneys are more likely to offer fair settlements when they are up against lawyers who have a record of success at trials.
Q: What is the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maine?
A: In general, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Maine is three years from the date of the first negligent act for adults. A notice of claim pursuant to the Maine Health Security Act must be filed within that timeframe or the claim will be forever barred.
Some providers, however, such as physicians employed at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), are subject to a shorter statute of limitations and are protected by special notice requirements. If you suspect you may have been harmed by medical malpractice, it is critical to speak with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.
Q: What types of damages could I recover in a medical malpractice claim?
A: There are two types of damages for which you could receive compensation: Economic and non-economic.
Economic damages include damages that can be calculated or fairly estimated, such as past and future medical expenses, lost wages and lost earnings potential. Expert witnesses can testify about how the injury impacted the person’s ability to earn a living in the future. These type of damages are sometimes referred to as “out of pocket” expenses.
Non-economic damages compensate victims for losses that are much harder to assign a specific dollar amount. Pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, the loss of companionship from a loved one, or permanent loss of function or permanent disfigurement are all types of non-economic damages.
If your case goes to trial and a jury agrees you deserve compensation, the jury members will decide how much money you should receive for each category of damages.