The settlement process for medical malpractice lawsuits doesn't always end when the participating parties reach an agreement. In many states, a judge must approve the settlement before it can be carried out, and there are times when judges will reject the proposals. Here are three of those times and what you can do to overcome the issues.
You're Not Getting Enough Money
One of the purposes of judicial oversight when it comes to settlements is to ensure plaintiffs receive fair compensation for damages. Sometimes settlement negotiations will end with plaintiffs receiving only a fraction of what they need and not realizing they're getting the short end of the deal. If the difference between the plaintiff's actual damages and the settlement amount is severe and there's no valid explanation for it or the judge feels the settlement won't adequately cover all those who were injured by the incident, he or she will reject the proposal.
For example, a federal judge rejected a $765 million dollar settlement the NFL and a group of former football players reached in 2014 regarding how the organization handled brain injuries caused by participation in the sport. The judge felt the amount would not cover all the potential former players who may have claims. Although only 4,500 players participated in the class action lawsuit, the judge estimated up to 20,000 people could become eligible for damages, resulting in the fund drying out before everyone could receive benefits.
Many times plaintiffs end up settling for less than they're entitled to because they don't know how much money they need. It's important you consider both current and future expenses you may incur as a result of the injury. For example, if the doctor damaged one of your organs, you should factor in the future cost of a transplant when a replacement organ comes available.
The Terms of the Settlement are Unclear
Another reason judges reject settlement proposals is if the contract terms are unclear, vague, or difficult to interpret. A settlement agreement means nothing if it can't be enforced, and unclear language can make it difficult to hold each party member to the terms outlined in the contract. Therefore, if a judge has concerns about the language in the agreement, he or she will send it back to the lawyers for clarification.
In 2009, for instance, a judge rejected a settlement proposal between a doctor and a patient who had contracted Hepatitis C at his facility. While the amount of money the patient received was fine, the judge felt the language addressing some issues in the case was too vague. The plaintiff's attorney indicated he would fix the problem.
Unless you understand legalese, it's critical you have a lawyer look over any settlement agreement you're given before you agree to it. In addition to catching mistakes that may impede the resolution of your case, an attorney can ensure you're being treated fairly by the defendant.
The Agreement Terms Don't Go Far Enough
A third issue a judge may have with a settlement agreement is if the contract terms don't do enough to address the issues brought up in the case. This typically occurs in cases involving people or organizations that have violated laws, policies, or procedures where the judge would want to ensure the liable party makes adequate changes to prevent similar injuries from occurring in the future.
For instance, a doctor violates waste disposal laws resulting in a group of patients being sickened. The judge may want the medical professional to report to a regulatory committee for a period of time and will reject any settlement proposal that doesn't include that requirement.
You'll typically know beforehand whether there are any special rules that should be included in your settlement. Just make sure the contract fully addresses them.
For more information about or help with settling a medical malpractice lawsuit, contact a personal injury attorney.