What can a medical malpractice lawsuit really do in Virginia? And how do we file complaints against Virginia hospitals, doctors, nursing homes etc?

I hear it frequently from kind, hurting people who have either suffered themselves as a result of Medical Malpractice in Virginia, or witnessed a loved one suffer: It’s not about the money – I just don’t want it to happen to someone else.”

So when I tell them the only thing a lawsuit can do is get a family some amount of money, they seem surprised. 

  • What about the doctor getting in trouble and his/her license being revoked or suspended?
  • What about the Hospital’s patient safety rating – how will that change as a result of a successful lawsuit?
  • Won’t that department have to undertake additional training?

All very good questions, and practical ones too. If we believe in a justice system where wrongs are righted, and accountability is ordered, shouldn’t a medical malpractice lawsuit of merit lead to some sort of change?

We see it in the criminal system frequently: Bad driver is ordered not only to pay for the ticket, and damage to the other vehicle, but also is ordered to attend driving safety school, or some other kind of re-training. 

The civil justice system in Virginia however, does not have the same kind of connection or control over the lives of the parties. The Commonwealth can require a citizen attend Driver’s Education, but a judge cannot require the Board of Medicine to investigate negligent care or horrible patient outcomes. Why? Because our law makers don’t let them. Law makers leave the licensing decisions not up to the judges, but to the licensing agencies that allow these healthcare providers to practice in the first place. 

So when someone either does not want to seek money damages in a formal medical malpractice lawsuit or claim, or perhaps we don’t recommend a lawsuit because it won’t benefit the family (listen here about liens) I often hand out the following phone numbers and websites that do allow patients and families to file complaints against Virginia healthcare providers. 

Will the complaints lead to any actual change? I don’t predict what could happen, but am occasionally delighted to see our state and federal complaint processes effectuating change. 

Want to see how it works?

  Roanoke Times writes about local nursing home complaints and investigations done by the Dept. of Health in Roanoke County facility.  (2014)

Roanoke Times writes about local assisted living facility losing it’s license because of complaints in Giles County. (2016) 

Roanoke Times reports on Salem Doctor and his frequent complaints before the Board of Medicine. (2016)

So do I think the complaint process can sometimes bring change? Yes. 

When in doubt – file a thoughtful, reasonable and organized complaint. Or, call our office to discuss what other legal actions you may have in Virginia and or whether a formal lawsuit will bring about the accountability you believe in. 

So let’s revisit the questions I am frequently asked: 

  • What about the doctor getting in trouble and his/her license being revoked or suspended? A lawsuit cannot directly effect the license of a doctor or nurse. You must also file a complaint with the Bd. of Medicine. 
  • What about the Hospital’s patient safety rating – how will that change as a result of a successful lawsuit? It won’t be effected in any way at all – you must also file a complaint with the Joint Commission or, as a term of your lawsuit settlement, demand some kind of retraining. 
  • Won’t that department have to undertake additional training? See above. The best you can hope for is re-training as a term of your settlement. 

Questions? Call me. I would be honored to discuss this with you further. 

Lauren Ellerman 

complaint image blog

Lauren Ellerman

Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.