Court Decision Reveals Why Medical Malpractice Experience Is So Important

Written by Atlee Hall

Like any line of work, the more someone works in a particular area, the more knowledge and insight they should have. We all learn by doing, which is especially true in a medical malpractice case.

A recent Superior Court decision concerning a medical malpractice case has highlighted this fact. The case included this commentary from the judge: “The following is a cautionary tale for attorneys who venture outside their area of expertise into unfamiliar specialized areas of litigation without educating themselves on the applicable rules and law.”

Medical Malpractice Cases Are Complex

In the above example, the plaintiff claimed several defendants committed medical malpractice. The case revolved around the plaintiff being hypnotized without her consent and sexually assaulted during medical treatment.

The case revolved heavily around a legal requirement in medical malpractice matters involving the certificate of merit. In lawsuits alleging a professional committing malpractice, this certificate must be filed with the complaint or within 60 days of its filing.

This certificate of merit is supposed to:

  • Be a statement by “an appropriate licensed professional” stating there’s a reasonable probability the care, skill, or knowledge exercised or shown in the plaintiff’s treatment is outside acceptable professional standards and it caused the plaintiff harm
  • Demonstrate that the deviation from acceptable professional standards is based on allegations other licensed professionals for whom the defendant is responsible didn’t perform up to an adequate level, or
  • Testimony by an appropriate, licensed professional is not needed to pursue the claim

Was the Certificate of Merit Missing?

The Pennsylvania lawsuit had a certificate of merit, but the defendants asked the court to ignore it because there was one certificate but multiple defendants; the current law states there must be one certificate per defendant. However, the court gave the attorney time to correct this and file more certificates.

In the meantime, the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case because the plaintiff’s lack of expert opinion that malpractice occurred. The judge agreed, dismissing claims against the defendants that didn’t have the proper documents. The judge asked the plaintiff if she wanted to continue the case based on malpractice (which needed expert opinion) or the intentional tort claims (which did not). She chose to keep the malpractice claim.

Who’s Qualified to Give an Opinion?

The judge gave the plaintiff extra time to come up with an expert report backing her claims. An expert report from a psychiatrist was produced, but the defendant objected, stating the doctor was an internist, and a psychiatrist isn’t qualified to say how an internist should practice medicine.

The defendant asked the court to dismiss the case because the plaintiff lacked a professional opinion backing her allegations. The judge agreed, the plaintiff asked the judge to reconsider, he declined, and no appeal was taken. At this point, the plaintiff’s case ended.

Mistakes Could Be Costly

Because the plaintiff’s attorney didn’t produce a statement from an expert on the malpractice issue, the defendants asked the judge to order payment of their legal bills, which totaled over $80,000. The judge granted the motion.

Later, this matter went to the appeals court (in Pennsylvania, the Superior Court) to reverse that decision. The plaintiff’s attorney stated he didn’t know about the defendant’s request for sanctions, so he didn’t respond. His administrative assistant quit was unable to handle all the information about his cases, and because of the pandemic, he couldn’t get much work done at home.

The Superior Court sent the case back down so the trial judge reconsiders whether the motion for sanctions should be granted, and if so, how much the attorney should pay.

Clients Benefit from an Attorney’s Experience

If you’re dealing with injuries caused by medical malpractice, an attorney making mistakes can end your case and cause even more turmoil in your life.

Unless it’s an extreme case, medical malpractice claims require expert opinions backing up the plaintiff’s allegations. When working on medical malpractice cases, an attorney gains technical and practical knowledge. That includes developing a network of medical experts who may sign merit certificates or testify in a case.

Another danger of using an inexperienced medical malpractice attorney is that you may have little or no chance of success. The lawyer you’re talking to may lack the knowledge and experience to see the weaknesses in your case. The attorney may also be too eager to get experience, so they take a case that’s better left unfiled.

False hopes in a weak case that’s eventually dismissed are especially dangerous. If you think you have a claim for a Lancaster, PA medical malpractice lawsuit, contact the qualified and practiced attorneys at Atlee Hall.