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“Early Settlement” Bills Are Dangerous for Those Hurt by Medical Malpractice

Earlier this week we reported on an alternative “reform” measure being considered in several states seeking to spur “early settlement” offers in medical malpractice cases. A recent editorial from the Seacoast Online recently considered the bill and explained how it is akin to forcing injured patients to make vital choices while wearing a blindfold. At the end of the day it is another attempt by insurance companies to refuse to pay victims of medical malpractice fair settlement amounts following medical errors.

Each Illinois medical malpractice attorney at our firm understands the myriad of emotions involved when one is dealing with serious medical complications, particularly when they learn that the error is caused by mistakes made by medical professionals. It is obviously difficult for victims and family members in the middle of these situations to make decisions rationally without being fully informed of the situation. Unfortunately, insurance companies are not above trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities at these crucial times by trying to get victims to sign away legal rights by making misleading promises about settlement. It is vital that those dealing with an insurance company not make any final decisions until at least getting advice of an experienced legal professional to learn whether or not the offer is fair. You can be sure that these companies are more interested in keeping money in their own coffers, and so frequently the only way to ensure fair settlements is by forcing the matter with legal help.

The risks of preying on medical malpractice victims at emotional moments is actually at the root of one tort reform proposal that is making the rounds in some states. For example, New Hampshire is considering a bill which would give hospitals (and their insurers) the ability to try to enroll patients in an “early settlement” system where they would receive less for their losses than they would under a traditional system. It represents an underhanded attempt by hospitals and insurers to shift the law in their favor.

Of course, our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that this and similar legislation usually involves patients “voluntarily” signing away important legal rights without actually knowing what they are doing. For example, in this state’s measure, the maximum compensation-even in cases where a patient dies because of egregious mistakes-is $117,500. In addition, there are severe limits on recovery for certain losses. For example, only lost wages are counted, and so stay-at-home mothers or retired seniors would receive far less. Their loss of life enjoyment or companionship is deemed irrelevant in this “early settlement” system.

The editorial rallying against the bill explained the consequences by using a real life example. Earlier in the year an 8-month old went into the hospital because of a chest infection. Because of a major mistake, a nurse accidentally cut off one of the child’s fingers. Yet, even though the child will have to live with the consequences of this error for the rest of his life, his compensation in the system under the bill would be about $29,000.

The low-compensation figures are just one of many problems with these “early settlement” systems. This sort of legislation is just using more backhanded means to convince unsuspecting victims to give up legal rights. Policymakers should reject these proposals at all costs.

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