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LNCtips.com: Case Closed!

As a new legal nurse consultant, you probably know that medically related lawsuits can end in a trial.  But did you know that there are other ways for lawsuits to end?  Let's look at the different ways that a lawsuit can be resolved.

A case can be dismissed by summary judgment.  The case is resolved by a judge who decides on a motion for summary judgment before the case goes to trial.  In medical malpractice cases, summary judgment is often a win for the Defense, which argues that the Plaintiff has no factual dispute.  For example, the Defense could claim that no malpractice occurred or that the damages suffered by the Plaintiff were known complications of a procedure.

Cases can also be closed through settlement, the most common way for lawsuits to end.   Settlements are wins for the Plaintiff.  In a settlement, the Plaintiff agrees to close the case in exchange for money from the Defense.  Many cases are resolved this way because the settlement amount is less costly for the defendant (or, more precisely, the defendant's insurance company) than the expense of a trial would be, even if the trial ended in a Defense verdict.   It doesn't make sense from a financial standpoint for the Defense to spend $100,000 on a trial when the Plaintiff would settle the case for $25,000.

When settlements are reached, the case is dismissed with prejudice.   A case dismissed this way is a final judgment.  It means that the case cannot be filed against the Defendant again. 

On the other hand, if a case is dismissed without prejudice, the Plaintiff is free to file another case on the same matter.   It's unlikely that any defendant would agree to this type of settlement.

Other ways for cases to close are through mediation and arbitration, two forms of alternative dispute arbitration.  Both mediation and arbitration take place outside the courtroom and involve a third-party facilitator who reviews the Plaintiff and Defense evidence.  The facilitator in mediation has no power to impose a resolution of the lawsuit.  However, the mediator  acts as a neutral person who works with both parties, often successfully, to end the case. 

Unlike a mediator, an arbitrator has the power to decide the outcome of the case after listening to arguments from both the Plaintiff and Defense.   Arbitration proceedings are used if the parties had a contract to use this type of alternative dispute resolution or agreed to arbitration.  The arbitrator's decision is final and permanent.

And, of course, a case can end by going to trial.  At trial, the Plaintiff and Defense put forth their cases in the presence of  jury members who decide the outcome of the case.  We have all heard about large awards to Plaintiffs who won their medical malpractice cases.  But most trials for medical malpractice cases award nothing to the Plaintiff because the Defense wins the case.  In fact, in some states Defense verdicts account for 85% of all medical malpractice verdicts. 

Even with this advantage, it's common for cases to settle on the eve of trial or even during trial.  This late stage settlement occurs because of jury unpredictability.  The Defense may be leery of the jury's ability to reach a verdict based on the facts of the case if jury members seem focused on witness composure or attorney personalities.

Want to learn more about lawsuits and cases? Check out the Archives.

...Katy Jones