So now you are a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit – what will this cost?

Understanding your case – part I

The conversation in our office is often about money. Costs of a case, compared to likely value of a case. And when we discuss costs with clients, they often have a hard time understanding what costs could be related to their case.

Founding partner Dan Frith explains what we mean by costs, in a Virginia Medical Malpractice case:

Frith & Ellerman
Dan Frith

What costs can I anticipate in bringing a medical malpractice case in Virginia?

Medical malpractice cases are typically complex and very different from most personal injury cases.

Cost 1 – Medical Records

First, we must collect all of the relevant medical records.  These records will come from a hospital (where a failed surgery occurred), the treating doctor’s office, the patient’s primary care physician or family doctor, records from any subsequent treating doctors or hospitalizations necessary to correct the negligent doctor’s harm, and even pharmacy records extending back multiple years. These records total hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pages.  Health care providers are limited in what they can charge for producing these records and the charges often depend on the nature of the request and whether the records are produced as “hard copies” or electronically on a CD.  Most of our clients will incur something in the range of $100 to $200 for their medical records.

Cost 2 – $$ Expert Review

Second, after our firm reviews each of the records to confirm the case’s potential, the next step is to have those records reviewed by a qualified expert physician. The expert could be a general surgeon, neurosurgeon, hospitalist, radiologist, gastroenterologist, pharmacist, dentist, etc.  We look for an expert trained in the same medical specialty as the defendant healthcare provider and we look for experts who are honest, unbiased, and respected by their peers.  Medical malpractice cases are truly “battles of the experts” and you want the best expert on your side. Experts are expensive and charge anywhere from $250 to $500 per hour.  Typically, experts charge something in the range of $1,500 to $5,000 to review the records and provide us with their opinions on whether the defendant deviated “from the accepted standard of care,” or in other words, whether the defendant was negligent.  If the expert supports our case, we are ready to file suit.

Cost 3 – Filing the lawsuit and litigating 

Filing and service fees can cost anywhere from $145 to $300.  Discovery is the next phase of the case and includes the exchange of written questions (interrogatories) and documents, followed by depositions of the parties and experts.  Depositions are statements taken under oath (just like in the court room) and are recorded by court reporters.  Fees for depositions of the parties and lay witnesses can run in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. In addition to court reporter fees, experts charge for their time in sitting for a deposition.  We pay for the defendants’ experts’ time in being deposed and the defendants pays for our experts’ time in being deposed.  If the case fails to settle after depositions, the next stage of the case is trial.

Cost 4 – Trial prep / Trial

Trial expenses can be substantial.  Our experts (typically not local) charge for their time away from their medical practice ($3,000 to $5,000 per day) as well as the cost of travel (mileage, air fare, hotels, food, etc.).  A significant part of the trial is the education of the jury on potentially complicated disease processes and surgeries.  We often retain the services of medical illustrators to prepare diagrams and pictures which are designed to help the jurors understand our case and explain why the defendant was negligent in harming our client.  Fees for the illustrators can range from $1,000 to $3,500.

As you can see, medical malpractice cases are complicated and can be expensive.  But in the cases in which we recommend pursuit of a claim, our clients have been seriously injured and often permanently harmed, even killed, as a direct result of medical negligence.  

In serious malpractice cases a family has lost significant income and incurred thousands upon thousands of medical bills for past medical treatment and many will need corrective treatment for the rest of their lives.  Even worse, our clients may have needlessly lost a loved family member.

We advance our clients’ cost but, unless an agreement or special arrangement can be made, the client is responsible for reimbursing our firm for those expenses.  In the majority of cases, those costs can come from a favorable settlement or jury verdict. 

In sum – from date of call, to date of trial, costs in a serious malpractice lawsuit are often between $20,000 – $50,000. While we do everything possible to keep these as low as possible, we also want to make sure you have a fair shot against the hospital defending the case – which means good experts, witnesses, illustrations etc. 

Do not hesitate to call if you have any questions. 

Dan Frith