Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Medical Malpractice?
In order to be effectively presented to a jury, a medical malpractice case must demonstrate three things:
- Professional negligence.
- An injury.
- Proof that the professional negligence caused the injury.
In lay terms, negligence is carelessness or a preventable error, a mistake that the professional should have avoided. In legal terms, we say that negligence is when a medical professional fails to provide medical care that meets the “standard of care” required by his or her specialty under the circumstances. Not every mistake is negligent and many times a bad medical outcome does not mean that the medical staff was negligent. Some complications are not preventable and some illnesses get worse in spite of good care. A medical malpractice case requires that the mistake was preventable because the physician did not follow the standards and protocols of his or her specialty as published in medical text books, medical research journals and medical training. Our attorneys and staff have extensive experience researching these sources and will consult with medical experts to determine whether the care given under your specific circumstances satisfied the national standard of medical care.
What kind of injury must be proven?
The injury must be one that a jury may appreciate and will agree was life-changing for the patient or the patient’s family. It is our job to understand the injury and communicate the circumstances and loss to a jury. Generally, a medical malpractice suit is justified when the patient suffered a severe injury causing loss of work, permanent or long-term loss of function or death.
In some medical negligence cases we find that there was a bad outcome and that there was negligence, but a civil suit for money damages may only be filed if the negligence was a “factual cause” of the injury or was a substantial cause of the bad outcome. Causation is often the hardest part of a case to prove and the hardest part of a case for a jury to understand. The lawyers and staff spend a great deal of their time researching the medicine of each case and working with our medical experts to develop ways to communicate the medical link between a physician’s error and the patient’s injury. In many cases, the physician defendant will try to prove that the bad outcome was inevitable, would have happened even if the correct medical care was provided or that the patient himself caused the injury. Only the most experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to get past this hurdle. The attorneys at Harry S. Cohen have that experience.
Do I Have A Case?
The attorneys and staff at Harry S. Cohen & Associates will consult with you over the phone or by email to help you determine if the facts of your medical care demonstrate a preventable medical error that justifies filing a medical malpractice case. There is no fee for the initial consultation and meetings.
What Will We Do For You?
After your initial contact with our office, we will schedule a meeting with you to discuss the details of your case necessary to begin our investigation. We understand that some clients cannot drive to our offices or are unable to travel to Pittsburgh. We will make every effort to meet with you at a place convenient to you, whether in your home, at a convenient neutral location or here at our main offices in Pittsburgh. We have reviewed thousands of medical malpractice cases and successfully represented hundreds of clients, so we encourage you to contact us about your case. We will do our best to promptly answer your questions and address your concerns. Even in cases when no lawsuit is possible, we hope to provide answers and peace of mind. We take our role as Counselors at Law seriously.
How Do We Review Cases?
- After our initial interviews and meeting, our attorneys will make a joint decision with you on whether we will begin an investigation directed toward filing a medical malpractice suit.
- The patient or the patient’s next-of-kin will sign an agreement hiring Harry S. Cohen & Associates, clearly setting forth the fees and payment details.
- The contract will clearly state that Harry S. Cohen & Associates will pay the costs of the investigation, lawsuit, expert witnesses and the trial, if there is a trial. The contract makes this as clear as possible:
It is further understood and agreed that the expenses of litigation, which will be advanced by Harry S. Cohen & Associates, will be deducted from the balance of any sums recovered by settlement or verdict after payment of the fee, and reimbursed to Harry S. Cohen & Associates. If no recovery is obtained, no fee or expenses shall be payable to Harry S. Cohen & Associates.
- We will work with you to assemble a summary of medical care, a rough list of medical care providers, hospitalizations and dates of treatment. Then we will procure all of the pertinent medical records.
- We will review and summarize these records and have them reviewed by experts who will testify at trial.
- We will draft the suit papers, interview the witnesses, doctors and nurses under oath at court supervised depositions and schedule the case for trial.
- If the case does not settle, we try the case before a jury. The trial will take about one to two (1-2) weeks and, depending upon how crowded the court docket is for the county where suit is filed, the trial may take place anywhere from one to three (1-3)years after your initial consultation with us.
It is important for our clients to know that our representation does not end at a settlement or verdict. We use our experience to assist our clients in handling the compensation that they are awarded. Many of our clients require extensive medical care, constant supervision or skilled assistance throughout their remaining lifetimes. When necessary, we work closely with various experts, banking institutions and attorneys to establish strong support systems and trust accounts to meet our clients’ individualized needs after trial or settlement.
Is It Too Late?
[Warning: Obviously, this site should only be used as a guide. Every case is different and no summary of law on any one issue can cover each particular circumstance or detail every nuance of the applicable case law. Use this as a basic guide, but please, call us with your specific questions.]
What Is a "Statute of Limitations"?
A statute of limitations is a state law that establishes a time limit on how long an injured person has to file suit for damages against the responsible party. After the statutory period has expired, the injured person cannot file suit for their injury. There are exceptions that may extend the period or may delay when the statutory period begins to run, but as a general rule, once the statute of limitations period has expired there can be no legal remedy.
Medical Malpractice Cases:
A civil suit for the negligence or carelessness of a physician or other medical professional must be filed within two (2) years of the date of the preventable mistake which caused the injury. Sometimes the patient does not know that a mistake happened, such as when a disease should have been diagnosed but was not, when a surgeon leaves a foreign object behind after surgery or a medication error causes a delayed reaction. When the patient could not possibly have known about the preventable error, the two (2) year statute of limitations does not begin to run until the mistake is discovered. However, there are now statutory limits on how long the discovery rule may allow a claim to lie dormant. We urge you to consult an attorney on the specifics of your case. Sometimes the patient may know that a mistake was made but does not know there was an injury or initially thinks that the injury was slight, waiting until their injury fully develops to realize its severity. If the patient could not possibly have known they were injured, the two (2) year statute of limitations does not begin to run until both the injury and the preventable mistake are known. However, if the patient knew of the mistake and knew of any injury at all, the discovery rule does not extend the statute of limitations. Waiting to consult a medical malpractice lawyer in these cases is usually a mistake. If there was any hint of a preventable mistake and an injury which could possibly be related, consult a medical malpractice attorney immediately.
Does The Two Year Rule Apply To Child Or Birth Injuries?
Generally, no. A parent may file suit on behalf of their child until the child’s 18th birthday or the child may file suit until his or her 20th birthday. This extended filing period only applies to damages or injuries suffered by the child and does not extend to any damages suffered by the parent due to the child’s injuries. For example, a birth injury lawsuit filed at age five or six could seek compensation for a child’s pain and suffering and lifetime lost wages, but the two (2) years statute of limitations on the parents’ claims for medical bills would have expired. Harry S. Cohen & Associates’ extensive experience with birth and child injury cases allows us to evaluate complex issues such as whether suit should be intentionally delayed to allow the child’s injury to mature. While a premature suit over a birth injury may preserve the parent’s claims, it may compromise the child’s larger claim because many mental and physical limitations do not manifest themselves until a child is in pre-school or kindergarten. Let us help you with these tough decisions.
Does Death Affect The Statute Of Limitations?
Yes. As an almost universal rule, Pennsylvania law does not permit a medical negligence suit to be filed more than two (2)years after the death of the injured patient. This rule generally trumps all exceptions including the discovery rule and a child’s right to a delayed suit. Except when the physician or hospital intentionally or fraudulently conceals the error or injury, the patient’s death starts a two (2) year statute of limitations and ends a child’s exception to the statute of limitations.
Does Mental Illness Affect The Statute Of Limitations?
No. A patient’s illness, whether medical or mental, does not stop the clock on a lawsuit.
When Should I Consult And When Should I File Suit?
Ask the professionals at Harry S. Cohen & Associates. In some cases we may recommend waiting a few months so that your treatment may proceed without interference with legal concerns and sometimes we may recommend acting rapidly due to legal or medical issues beyond the patient’s knowledge. Act now and call us to help you through these tough questions. Delaying your call to us is rarely a good thing. Most lawyers will not seriously review cases with less than six (6) months remaining on the statute of limitations because it can take that long to obtain records, investigate the facts and medicine and hire experts to review the case. So, gather your facts, including treatment dates and names of medical providers, if you have them and email or call us today at 1-888-medmal1.
What Do I Need To Know?
When you contact Harry S. Cohen for your initial consultation, we will ask you questions about the person who was injured, what you believe the preventable medical mistake was and details about the current medical condition of the person who was injured. It is important to have as much information related to your case as possible when contacting us as it will greatly aid us in answering your questions and assessing the probability of our helping you. Many of our clients do not have the dates of each office visit or the names of each doctor who treated them. Our professional staff is experienced at investigating these cases and will work with you to summarize your case as you and your family know it. Do not hesitate to contact us with any information you have as it is important we begin helping you immediately. We will not speak to family, friends, employers or medical providers about you or your case without your explicit permission and written authorization. We will ask you for at least the following information:
- The name and phone number of the caller
- The name, address and age of the patient
- The names of the next of kin if it is a death case
- Whether the injured patient had any related medical history such as prior surgeries, prior hospitalizations, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, mental illness or cancer
- Whether the injured patient was incapacitated or lost any work due to the injury
- The treatment and hospitalization dates involved with the case
- The names and medical specialties of the medical providers who you think caused the injury
- The preventable mistake you think caused the injury
- The condition of the injured patient today
Our initial consultation is free. Subsequent consultations, if necessary, are free. If we believe you may have a case, we will obtain your medical records for no charge to you. If we pursue your case we charge a contingent fee - that is, our fee is a percentage of what is recovered, be it an out-of-court settlement or jury verdict. We advance all expenses of litigation and if we decide at some point not to pursue your case, you owe us nothing. If your case is lost at trial, you owe us nothing. We only recover the expenses and collect a fee in the event of a recovery.