How to Find the Right Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Your Case

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2 How to Find the Right Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Your Case Jeff Powless Attorney 2012 by Jeff Powless All rights reserved. 1

3 CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 THE PROBLEM 4 FINDING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY 9 DON T DELAY 14 CONCLUSION 15 ABOUT THE AUTHOR 16 2

4 INTRODUCTION M any find it hard to believe that one of the leading causes of injury and death in the United States is negligent care by hospitals, nursing homes, physicians and other healthcare providers. Unfortunately, study after study has confirmed this relatively quiet truth. Yet, in most instances, those responsible for the negligence are never held accountable and the victims are never compensated for their resulting loss. One significant reason for this is that the laws addressing medical malpractice (medical negligence) unfortunately favor protecting the healthcare industry over protecting patients. Nonetheless, it is important for malpractice victims and their families to hold negligent health care providers accountable, not only for purposes of obtaining fair compensation for the losses caused by the malpractice, but also to help identify and correct patient safety problems before they harm others. Medical malpractice claims can also help ensure that the medical bills attributable to malpractice are paid by the entities that did the harm, rather than by the patient, the patient s insurance company, and taxpayers (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid). Indiana s medical malpractice laws are complex and impose numerous hurdles for patients seeking accountability. However, finding an experienced medical malpractice attorney to represent you in your case can significantly increase your likelihood of finding accountability, raising awareness of the problem, and of obtaining reasonable compensation for the harms and losses. 3

5 In this book, you will find important information about: the medical malpractice problem and why it is important for victims to seek accountability; and, how to find the right medical malpractice lawyer for your case. THE PROBLEM Medical Malpractice Is One of the Leading Causes of Injury and Death in the United States If two hundred and fifty (250) people died in an airliner crash in the United States, this tragic event would dominate the news cycles for days and prompt intense investigations into the cause of the tragedy. Politicians would express determination to ensure that those responsible for any negligence leading to this loss of life would be held accountable, as they should. Preventable deaths of this magnitude are unacceptable and require an appropriate response to ensure that adequate safety systems are put in place and followed. In the airline industry, this intense scrutiny upon safety problems has worked. Deaths attributable to airline crashes in the U.S. are extraordinarily rare, considering more than 1.6 million passengers per day on U.S. flights

6 Now contrast the success of airline accountability, with the lack of accountability we find today in the U.S. health care industry. Here are the facts: the U.S. Institute of Medicine found that medical malpractice kills an estimated 98,000 people every year at a cost of $29 billion. 2 Leading Causes of Death in US 1 Heart Disesase 652,091 2 Cancer 559,312 3 Preventable Medical Errors 195,000 4 Stroke 143,579 5 Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease 130,933 6 Accidents (unintentional) 117,809 7 Diabetes 75,119 8 Alzheimer's Disease 71,599 9 Influenza/Pneumonia 63, Nephritis/Nephrosis 43, Septicemia 34,136 That is the equivalent of 268 patient deaths from malpractice - EACH AND EVERY DAY in the United States. More recent research has in fact shown the number of deaths to be closer to 195,000 per year. 3 If the CDC were to include preventable medical errors as a category of leading causes of death in the US, it would rank as high as #3 - even ahead of stroke, alzheimer's and diabetes. 4 Also keep in mind, these estimates do not even include the incidents of malpractice which 2 To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, Institute of Medicine, "In Hospital Deaths from Medical Errors at 195,000 per Year USA". Medical News Today

7 seriously injured the patient without causing death. In an effort reduce the number of malpractice-related deaths, the government and private health insurers have identified events that should never happen in a hospital. These events include operating on the wrong body site, performing the wrong procedure, and operating on the wrong patient, among others. Unfortunately, studies have shown that these so-called never events are occurring at alarming rates in health facilities throughout the U.S. every week. Recently the Joint Commission Center on Transforming Healthcare reported that as many as forty (40) wrong site, wrong side and wrong patient procedures happen every week in the US. 5 These reports are corroborated and confirmed by other research as well. Consider the following: The Institute for Health Improvement estimates there are 15 million incidents of medical harm each year. 6 In conducting a recent study, researchers found that hospital errors actually occur 10 times more often than they are reported, affecting patients in one out of every three admissions. 7 HealthGrades, a health care rating organization, found, in a 2008 study, that Medicare patients had a one-in-five chance of dying as a result of a patient- 5 Wrong Site Surgery Project, Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare

8 safety incident. 8 Despite these findings highlighting the seriousness of the problem, safety in American hospitals has not improved enough since. Recent research performed by Harvard School of Medicine found that about 18% of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their stay and many of those injuries are life-threatening and some are fatal. 9 A Lack of Accountability In 1986, under the Reagan administration, the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 was passed which established the National Practitioner s Data Bank (NPDB) to serve as an electronic repository to collect and release certain information related to the professional competence and conduct of physicians, dentists, and, in some cases, other health care practitioners. The establishment of the NPDB represented an important step by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve the quality of health care for all Americans. State licensing boards, hospitals and other health care entities, and professional societies are expected to identify, discipline, and report on those who engage in specific unprofessional behavior. The implementation of the NPDB was intended to prevent incompetent physicians, dentists, and other health care practitioners from moving state to state undetected by disclosing medical malpractice payments or adverse action histories at the time of credentialing, employment, or licensing. Unfortunately, the goals of the NPDB have not been met. For example, despite more than 98,000 deaths being attributable each year to 8 The Fifth Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, HealthGrades, April Christopher P. Landrigan et al., Temporal Trends in Rates of Patent Harm Resulting from Medical Care, New England Journal of Medicine, November 25,

9 medical negligence (and again, not counting the many serious injury cases), in 2010 only 13,277 medical malpractice payments to the victims were reported nationwide to the National Practitioner Data Bank. 10 This lack of accountability is likely the result of several factors: Patients are misled by the negligent healthcare provider about whether malpractice occurred; Patients avoid pursuing a claim because they do not know whether they have a solid case and do not know where to turn; and, Those who do seek an attorney find it difficult to locate an attorney who is best suited to handle their case

10 FINDING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY FOR YOUR CASE One should consult a qualified attorney, experienced in handling medical malpractice cases, as soon as they have reason to believe there may have been medical negligence involved in an injury or death. It is important to take action without delay for at least a couple of reasons. First, the law imposes strict time limits for filing a medical negligence claim, called statutes of limitations. If the claim is not filed before the applicable deadline, then the claim may be forever barred. Second, it is important to discuss the issues with a qualified medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve evidence. Memories tend to fade over time, and the longer one waits to consult an attorney, the more likely it is that they will forget important details, such as names of witnesses, the timeline of events, important conversations with the health care providers at issue, and other significant details. In deciding which attorney to consult, people often mistakenly believe that all attorneys who represent victims of medical malpractice and their families are more or less the same. This, however, is not true. There are important differences that you should take into consideration. 9

11 There are 6 important questions you should ask when selecting an attorney to handle a medical malpractice case: 1. Do they concentrate solely on serious medical malpractice cases? 2. Are they experienced in handling medical malpractice cases? 3. Will they provide you with a free consultation? 4. Will they guarantee that there is no fee, unless you recover? 5. Do they have the financial resources and manpower to properly take on the defendants, their insurance companies, and their lawyers? 6. Will they come to you, if you cannot travel to their office? 10

12 LET S DISCUSS EACH OF THE ABOVE MORE DETAIL: 1. Do they concentrate solely on serious medical malpractice cases? Many law firms advertise that they handle medical malpractice cases. If you look closely, however, you will notice that most firms also spend their time handling a variety of other matters entirely unrelated to malpractice cases (eg., car accidents, divorces, social security, workers compensation, etc.) Medical malpractice is, however, a very specialized area of the law, and thus requires the ability to keep abreast of the very latest developments in the tactics and law in order to be most effective. For that reason, the Powless Law Firm ONLY handles medical malpractice cases against hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and other negligent healthcare providers. We believe that our ability to concentrate solely on medical malpractice cases allows us to focus all our time staying abreast of the most recent developments in the field, and innovating ways to stay ahead of the curve in prosecuting medical negligence cases in a manner most likely to produce the best outcome for our clients. We do not dilute our time and attention by handling cases having nothing to do with medical negligence. 2. Are they experienced in handling medical malpractice cases? There is no substitute for experience. Medical malpractice cases require an understanding of complex medical concepts, the interpretation of voluminous medical records, and the ability to consult effectively with experienced, well-credentialed medical experts. Many cases are resolved prior to trial; however, some are not and a 11

13 trial is necessary. It is important to find an attorney who has experience in taking cases to trial, and winning. We at the Powless Law Firm believe our experience in handling medical malpractice cases can make the difference in your case. Attorney Jeff Powless has prosecuted medical malpractice cases for more than 14 years, and has served as lead trial counsel in medical malpractice trials which have resulted in precedent setting victories. In addition, Jeff has been an invited speaker on the topics of medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, and the use of technology in preparing for trial. Jeff has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Indiana, and the Western District of Texas. He is a member of the Indianapolis, Indiana State and American bar associations, the State Bar of Texas, the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, and the American Association for Justice. 3. Will they provide you with a free consultation? Not all law firms will provide free consultations, and instead may ask you for a retainer to meet with you initially, or to conduct a follow-up investigation into whether or not you may have a case. Our approach is different. The Powless Law Firm provides free consultations. We will never request any type of retainer fee or other compensation to discuss a case with a potential client or to investigate the case to determine whether the case has merit. In fact, we never ask our clients to pay us anything out of their own pocket, ever. 12

14 4. Will they guarantee that there is no fee, unless you recover? Some law firms may require payment of attorney fees (hourly or otherwise) as they pursue the case. Their agreement may allow them to withdraw from the case if you do not make timely payments. Again, our approach is different. The Powless Law Firm guarantees that no attorney fees are ever owed by you, unless and until we obtain a recovery for you. We accept cases on a contingency basis, meaning we do not charge our clients an hourly fee, and instead only receive a percentage of the amount we recover for you as attorney fees for our work. We also cover all out-of-pocket case development expenses (eg., expert fees, filing fees, deposition costs, etc.) necessary to pursue the case. If we make no recovery, then we charge no attorney fee or expenses. There is no financial risk for our clients. 5. Do they have the financial resources and manpower to properly take on the defendants, their insurance companies, and their lawyers? The defendant health care providers, their insurance companies, and their attorneys typically have substantial resources available to defend the case in an effort to avoid accountability. It is important that the firm you choose has the financial resources and manpower available to maximize the likelihood of obtaining a successful outcome for you. Medical malpractice cases often require taking the depositions of key witnesses, consulting with leading experts in the medical field, and intensively reviewing voluminous patient medical records and peer- 13

15 reviewed medical literature. At the Powless Law Firm, we have the resources, people, technology, and medical experts required to properly evaluate, investigate, and prosecute complex medical malpractice cases. Ask us about our track record, which we believe will speak for itself. 6. Will they come to you, if you cannot travel to their office? Illness, disability, work schedules, transportation issues, and geographic barriers, can make it impossible, or impractical, for one to be able to meet with an attorney in their office. At the Powless Law Firm, we understand this and are accustomed to meeting with our clients where it is most convenient for them, whether that is at their home, hospital, nursing home or other location of their choice when necessary. DON T DELAY Now that you have the information you need to help you select a medical malpractice lawyer best suited for your case, please ensure that you act upon this information in a timely manner. It is critical to keep in mind that time is of the essence when pursing a medical malpractice claim. Indiana law imposes strict deadlines in medical malpractice cases that will forever bar the claim if it is not filed in a timely manner. The law relating to the applicable deadline can be exceedingly complex; therefore, one should not delay in consulting a qualified medical malpractice attorney to determine the applicable statute of limitations and review the case. 14

16 CONCLUSION Medical malpractice has been, and remains much too common in the United States. Only by taking action can we expect things to change for the better. If you believe that you or a loved one have been harmed by medical malpractice, and would like to have your case investigated and prosecuted, take action now to locate a qualified, experienced medical malpractice attorney that is right for your case. Powless Law Firm, P.C. Concentrate solely on medical negligence cases. Experienced. FREE consultation. Our Guarantee: No fee unless you recover. Resources to compete and win. We will come to you. 15

17 ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Powless Jeff Powless is an attorney with the Powless Law Firm, P.C., an Indianapolis-based law firm that concentrates exclusively upon medical malpractice and nursing home neglect cases throughout the State of Indiana. Jeff was born and raised in Indiana. After graduating from Purdue University, Jeff attended law school at Indiana University (Bloomington) where he received his law degree, and was then admitted to the Indiana bar. Soon after, he was also admitted to the Texas bar. Jeff has been an invited speaker at various legal education seminars on the topics of medical malpractice, nursing home neglect litigation, and utilizing technology during the litigation process. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys spending time with his family, playing basketball, and coaching youth athletics. Jeff is admitted to practice in Indiana and Texas state courts, and has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Indiana, and the Western District of Texas. He is a member of the Indianapolis, Indiana State and American bar associations, the State Bar of Texas, the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, and the American Association for Justice. To contact Jeff: Call toll-free: Powless Law Firm, P.C Counselor s Row, Suite 200 Indianapolis, IN

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