Wrongful deaths in hospitals are an unfortunate reality of the medical profession. Patients may be harmed when employees of hospitals commit negligent medical errors, such as surgical mistakes or wrongful anesthesia. In these situations, a hospital may be held liable for damages. If a patient dies due to a medical error or medical malpractice, relatives of the deceased may bring a wrongful death suit against the hospitals involved.
Hospitals do pay wrongful death claims out of court.
Most personal injury lawsuits, including wrongful death claims, settle before the case ever reaches a court. According to statistics from the American Judges Association (AJA), about 84 percent of pending tort lawsuits end in a pre-trial settlement. This means more cases than not, end up being settled before going to court and getting a judgment. Settling means that both parties have come to an agreement and resolved their issues outside of court without a trial.
A published report in 2006 from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 61 of medical malpractice lawsuits are settled out of court rather than litigated in a trial.
There are many benefits to settlement rather than undergoing a full trial. These reasons include:
- Expense. Settling out of court is far less expensive than a trial. Trials involve attorneys, expert witnesses, depositions, exhibits, court costs, travel and lost time from work. If a case settles before going to trial, then most of these expenses can be reduced or eliminated. Plus, a plaintiff will be paid sooner than if he or she needs to wait for a trial date.
- Stress. Going to trial is stressful. Settlement may reduce some of that stress. Many people find it hard to undergo the process of trial. Plaintiffs can be subjected to examination and cross-examination on the witness stand, and have their lives publicly discussed in a courtroom.
- Privacy. When a case settles out of court, the details can be kept private. Many settlement agreements even have confidentiality agreements. When a case goes to trial, the court documents become public record and available for anyone can see them. Cases that get picked up by the news can have tremendous impact on the lives of those involved in the case.
- Unpredictability. Going through the court process is more unpredictable than settling out-of-court. Jury decisions are very uncertain. Sometimes a jury may award more to the plaintiff than what the case would have settled for, but other times they may not. There is no guarantee. With an out-of-court settlement, both parties have negotiated control over how much a defendant must pay out.
- Time. The trial and appeals process can take years. Settlement shortens the time frame
- Liability. If a defendant loses at trial, he or she has been officially proven “guilty” for the injuries. If the case of settled, however, the person or party on the defensive is not required to admit to liability. This is a significant benefit to a defendant, like a hospital, which may not want to admit wrongdoing and is concerned about having a public record of negligence.
- Finality. The defendant can’t appeal a settlement. A judgment can be appealed. An appeal will drag out the process even longer. Even with a relatively simple personal injury case can take three or four years before money changes hands. Settlements ensure the dispute is over.
Keep in mind, in many cases, the offer of a large settlement will be made at the last minute. The hope is that the plaintiff will take a smaller amount. Sometimes, however, the settlement offer is so unfair that there is little choice but to take the case to court. This is why it is important that victims of medical malpractice hire a lawyer who has experience with medical malpractice cases.