Medical Malpractice

The Anatomy of Lawsuits: Motivations which lead medical malpractice claims

When patients decide to take legal action against healthcare practitioners, it’s not a decision they make lightly. There are often deep-rooted motivations behind these lawsuits. So what might these reasons be, and how do these factors impact the legal process?

1. Physical trauma

One of the primary reasons patients sue is physical trauma, and this can become a powerful motivator for seeking compensation. Imagine going in for a knee replacement surgery to relieve your knee pain, only to discover later that the surgeon operated on the wrong knee. This mistake means enduring additional physical pain and a second surgery. Patients may also sue if they experience unexpected complications, possibly leading to an extended hospital stay or longer recovery.

2. Hurt feelings

Emotions play a significant role in patient lawsuits, and hurt feelings are a huge driver behind many medical malpractice claims. If a patient feels unheard or disrespected by their healthcare providers and they feel they are not being treated with dignity, they could be driven to seek legal action. Addressing not only the physical aspects of patient care but also their emotional well-being can go a long way in preventing such grievances. Effective communication, empathy and respect can help mitigate hurt feelings and foster a more positive patient-provider relationship, which can reduce the likelihood of patients seeking legal action.

3. Unnecessary expenses

In a world where money matters, unexpected healthcare expenses can be a breaking point. Patients may sue when they believe they’ve incurred unnecessary costs due to additional tests, surgeries or prolonged hospital stays. A patient feeling that they were overcharged or received unnecessary treatments often forms the basis of such claims.

These three factors often combine, which compounds a patient’s motivation to pursue legal action. The most intense situations tend to occur when a patient’s loved one steps in to file a claim on their behalf. Take, for example, parents seeking justice for their child in the event of treatment that didn’t go as planned. Their motivation is fuelled by a profound sense of love, injustice and bitterness – and these types of claims are far more emotional and driven by a more acute sense of motivation. It’s important for healthcare practitioners to acknowledge the emotional toll on both patients and their family members in these cases, and to recognise how much more motivated plaintiffs are in these situations to achieve a sense of redress.

The motive behind a lawsuit influences the defence strategy taken by attorneys appointed to handle these claims. Attorneys must consider whether the plaintiff is motivated by principle or is merely seeking a quick financial gain. This understanding then shapes how they approach the case and negotiations. What’s more, the emotional aspect of the claim can affect its duration, as patients and their families may be more personally invested in seeking justice and may hold out longer in terms of the legal proceedings.

Recognising these factors is crucial for healthcare providers and attorneys to navigate medical malpractice cases effectively. Understanding the underlying motivations has multiple benefits: it can inform legal strategies, it can allow both parties to work towards a fair resolution and it can allow for more empathetic care to patients and their families.

To learn more about summons and how best to manage them as a healthcare practitioner, listen to this interview with specialist attorneys Justin Malherbe and Sandra Sithole.

(Taken from: Summons, Not what the Doctor Ordered)

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