Medical malpractice settlements are a double edged sword. The doctor, or other health care professional, has been sued. They are vulnerable and emotional – they are hurt that their patient or the patient’s family would sue them, angry that they have been sued, and scared that they could lose their professional liability insurance and/or their personal assets if they lose the case.
Enter the possibility of a settlement. Like most things, there are good aspects and not so good aspects in settling a case. On the plus side, a settlement ends the uncertainty, the thought of losing time to sit in a courtroom on trial, and the fear of getting a verdict that could put their home, their savings – everything they have worked for all their lives at risk.
On the negative side, a settlement means that very likely their insurance rates will increase. Significantly. In addition, they will feel embarrassed about settling a case, despite the fact that any liability or wrongdoing will be specifically denied – and most doctors or other health care practitioners have been sued at least once in their lives.
Most troubling though is that the settlement will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Yes, the doctor or health care practitioner can write a defensive paragraph giving his/her side of the story and in fact, must submit one to the IDFPR but the settlement is there for all patients, insurers, other professionals to see if they choose to look. The attorney should draft the defensive paragraph because there are very specific length and timing issues for those responses and the failure to respond can have very serious consequences.
The decision to settle is very serious and it is essential that all medical malpractice attorneys have candid and open discussions with their clients, explaining all of the pros and cons of settlement. The health care provider should make a fully informed decision. After all, they are the ones who will have to live with that decision forever.