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Settling malpractice cases: sometimes beneficial, sometimes not

Readers may remember that comedian Joan Rivers’ death in September of 2014 was followed by allegations that the New York City clinic where she received care in her last days was responsible for her death. The comedian’s daughter, Melisa Rivers, subsequently sued the clinic for medical malpractice. Now, it appears, that case has settled.

The doctor who was the target of the lawsuit reportedly accepted responsibility for the comedian’s death and agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to Ms. Rivers’ family. Oftentimes, such settlements do not include any acceptance of responsibility, at least in the sense of admitting fault. Often such settlements are premised on sparing the parties time and costs rather than fault or taking responsibility. 

In many ways, settling medical malpractice disputes outside court can be very beneficial for patients. Medical malpractice litigation can become quite costly and time-consuming, and it isn’t usually clear what the payoff will be. Patients who are able to negotiate a fair settlement with a health care provider outside court can avoid a lot of hassle. Working out a deal in which a patient is compensated fairly is often an uphill battle, though.

Very often, providers and the institutions where they work are reluctant to admit any liability and are willing to put up a fight to preserve their good name. The expense of medical malpractice litigation, for health care providers, can reverberate beyond an individual case if the provider is found to be at fault.

For all these reasons, it is critical for injured patients to work with experienced legal counsel to ensure they have zealous advocacy in malpractice settlement talks. This is particularly the case when the health care provider is resistant to admitting fault and expresses willingness to take the case to trial. Settling may be the best course in some cases, but sometimes it is best to fight it out and take the risks that go with litigation. 

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