How Long Does it Take for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit to Settle?

If you have been the victim of medical negligence and you have a malpractice lawsuit pending, one of the primary questions you probably have is “how long will it take for my case to settle?” Our Maryland malpractice lawyers get this question all the time from our medical malpractice clients.

It is completely reasonable to ask. Medical malpractice victims frequently end up in acute financial distress as treatment bills pile up and they cannot work. Many of our clients end up desperately waiting for a settlement in their malpractice case to bail them out.  This makes the time frame for a settlement more important.

The Average Malpractice Settlement Can Take 18 to 24 Months

The length of time it takes to get a settlement in a medical malpractice lawsuit will vary depending on a number of factors including

  • the size and complexity of the case
  • the speed and efficiency of the court system
  • who the defendants are

The medical malpractice attorneys at my firm have handled hundreds of medical malpractice cases in Maryland and across the country. In our experience, the average length of time it takes to get a final settlement in a typical malpractice case is between 18 to 24 months from the date that the case is filed. Keep in mind that this is just a composite average. We have seen malpractice cases settle in less than 1 year (although this is rare). It is also not unheard of for cases to drag on for three years or more before a final settlement.

In the end, the majority of Maryland medical malpractice cases that are filed eventually settle before going to trial. The estimates are has many as 95% of cases settle out of court and this close to in line with what our law firm sees.  Malpractice cases our lawyers think will never settle – we are CERTAIN will never settle – ultimatlely settle. Often the settlement amount is just too high to turn down. But every case is different and there is no fixed timeline for when a settlement will occur. Each each case is unique and can be impacted by various factors we discuss below.

Factors Affecting the Malpractice Settlement Timeline Case

As mentioned above, there are a handful of factors that will dictate how long a particular medical malpractice case may take to settle. Each of these factors can have a significant impact on the settlement timeframe.

  • Number of Defendants: medical malpractice cases usually have a number of named defendants. You typically don’t sue just one individual doctor. You sue the doctor, the nurse, the radiologist, the hospital, etc. etc. In certain types of cases, such as hospital malpractice cases, it is not uncommon to see 10 or even 20 separate defendants named in the original complaint. As a general rule, the more named defendants you have in a case the longer things will take. When you have 5 defendants, everything in the discovery phase gets multiplied by 5 (5 depositions, 5 sets of document requests, etc.).
  • Type of Negligence: the timetable for settlement of a case will often depend on what type of medical negligence is alleged and how easy or difficult it will be to prove. Certain types of medical negligence are often easier to prove than others. For instance, surgical malpractice is often easier to prove than failure to diagnose cancer.  If a surgeon leaves a clamp inside a patient it will be relatively easy to prove medical negligence. When medical negligence is more obvious and easier to prove, the defendants will be more willing to settle the case without going through months of discovery. When medical negligence is not obvious and more difficult to prove the defendants are far more likely to dig in their heels.
  • Speed of Court System: the speed and caseload of the court system that your malpractice case is in will always have a major impact on the settlement time table. Most malpractice cases will end up settling shortly before the scheduled trial date. The risk and expense of having to go trial is usually necessary in order to pressure the defendants into the settlement. If your case is in a very busy court system, your trial date will be further out and more likely to get delayed or postponed. If you are in a faster, more efficient court venue you can expect a faster trial date.
  • Who the Defendants Are: who the individual defendants are in a medical malpractice case can impact the settlement time-frame. Hospital defendants are much more likely to settle malpractice claims quickly compared to individual doctor defendants. Hospitals want to protect their public image and avoid negative attention from a malpractice case. They are also self-insured so they don’t have to worry about their insurance rates going up if they settle a claim. By contrast, individual doctors are often very reluctant to settle cases because they don’t want their malpractice insurance rates to go up.

malpractice settlement time


What Are the Critical Moments to Settle a Malpractice Lawsuit?

  1. Filing the lawsuit: The first step in a medical malpractice lawsuit is filing a complaint in court. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the jurisdiction and the complexity of the case.  Cases sometimes settle after filing suit.  I’m going tomorrow to settle a case where settlement negotiations began in earnest after we filed our lawsuit and before any discovery was done.
  2. Discovery phase: Once the lawsuit is filed, both parties will engage in a discovery process. This involves gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and taking depositions. This process can take several months to a year or more, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses involved.  Not many cases settle in the heat of this process.
  3. Pretrial motions: Before the case goes to trial, there may be pre-trial motions filed by either party. These can include requests for summary judgment or to exclude certain evidence from the trial. The court may take several months to rule on these motions.  Settlement amounts are often offered after the pretrial motions have been ruled on by the judge.
  4. Pretrial Conferenc: Many medical malpractice cases are settled out of court through negotiations between the parties at the pretrial conference or at a mediation. Settlement negotiations can
  5. Trial: Just before and just after the trial before the jury comes back are opportunities to settle
  6. Appeals: If either party is unhappy with the outcome of the trial, they may file an appeal. Cases are often settle before appellate motions are due or before the judges rule on the appeal.

When Do Most Medical Malpractice Cases Settle?

The majority of settlements in medical malpractice cases occur after the close of the discovery phase and before the scheduled trial date. There is no set rule for when a medical malpractice case can be settled. 

A settlement can occur a week after the case is filed or on the courthouse steps at the end of a trial. A settlement can be agreed to at any point before the jury comes back with a final verdict. That being said, 80% of medical malpractice settlements occur in the window of time between the end of discovery (the fact-gathering phase in which the parties take depositions and collect evidence) and the start of the trial. The primary reason for this is the enormous cost of taking a medical malpractice case to trial. A 1-week trial in a medical malpractice case can easily cost a defendant $200,000. So even if the defendant wins at trial, it will be a very costly victory. Moreover, if they end up losing, they could end up spending all that money on the trial AND getting hit with a multi-million dollar verdict.

What Are My Chances of Winning My Medical Malpractice Case?

Once your medical malpractice case gets filed, you have about a 75% chance of getting some type of financial compensation. Approximately 3 out of every 4 medical malpractice plaintiffs end up getting financial compensation. Only about 12% of medical malpractice cases end up going to trial.

Contact Miller & Zois About Your Malpractice Case

The Maryland medical malpractice lawyers at Miller & Zois have a track record of success in getting life-changing financial compensation for victims of medical malpractice. Contact us today to discuss your case.