Confidential settlements in medical malpractice cases

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medmaldoctortalking.jpgIn many instances, medical providers and their insurers will offer compensation to victims injured by medical negligence without acknowledging fault. For example, Ohio State University will pay nearly $4 million to settle medical malpractice and wrongful death claims, according to a recent story in the Columbus Dispatch. However, it did not admit that medical malpractice was involved.

One victim, who died in 2009, was treated at Stoneridge Medical Center, operated in Dublin by Ohio State University. The lawsuit charged that the 38-year-old man was not diagnosed and died as a result. Even though he called the center several times complaining of rectal pain and bleeding, he was told just to keep taking pain medications. After several days, he died of bleeding into the brain because of a previously undiagnosed condition that can result in internal bleeding.

The university also agreed to pay a Marietta man who charged that his injuries were the result of substandard medical care at Wexner Medical Center. While the man underwent spinal surgery, air was allowed to get into a catheter. The man alleges that this led to heart attacks, brain and spine strokes, vision problems and numbness after the air caused an embolism in his circulatory system.

In both of these cases, the university agreed to pay compensation without admitting any liability for the death and injuries. Medical providers and their insurance companies use this strategy when negotiating settlements, believing that it is better to pay compensation than to be found responsible for an injury or death in a civil trial.

Many settlements such as these are entirely confidential, with the settlement amounts not reported. The two recent Ohio cases described above were not confidential, and both the details of the alleged medical malpractice and the amounts of the settlements were made public.

The Toledo Blade recently reported on a confidential settlement. According to the paper, a settlement was reached with an orthopedic surgeon in Lucas County. The settlement named the plaintifff and the medical details of the case, which involved nerve damage to a patient’s leg caused by hip replacement surgery. The amount of the settlement was not included in the description of the case, although the plaintifff’s lawyer said that it was “very favorable.”

The lack of transparency in medical malpractice settlements is not limited to Ohio. Moreover, in some instances, part of a settlement can be confidential and another part made public. For example, a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on a case that named the doctors and the amounts paid by the doctors’ medical malpractice insurance companies, but did not admit that the physicians were at fault. A second claim against one of the same doctors was also settled for an undisclosed amount, although the incident that caused the death of the plaintifff’s spouse was described.

Patients or families thinking about a malpractice lawsuit against a hospital or physician need to consider their goals. Do they want compensation only or do they also want an admission of liability? If they want a defendant to admit liability, they may wish to decline a settlement offer and proceed with a lawsuit.



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