Are changes coming to medical malpractice lawsuits in Iowa?

Injured patients and doctors may soon be able to negotiate outside of the courtroom.

No patient wants to end up bringing a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or hospital. Listening to media reports, it can sometimes seem as though medical malpractice lawsuits are a dime a dozen and doctors are sued for every outcome that the patient doesn't like. This is not true.

It is harder than ever for injured patients to recover in a medical malpractice suit. Yet medical malpractice lawsuits remain one of the surest ways for a patient to discover the circumstances surrounding an adverse medical event. A successful suit also improves upon patient safety in the future and can help the injured patient with additional medical expenses and lost wages.

But certainly there is room for improvement. In Iowa, for example, the average medical malpractice lawsuits takes longer to resolve than in neighboring states.

In order to improve patient safety and provide a more efficient method of resolving disputes, Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would attempt to help injured patients and doctors resolve issues outside of the courtroom. House Bill 143, and its companion bill, Senate Study Bill 1176, would allow an alternative settlement process to traditional litigation. The bill would allow a physician to "engage in an open discussion" with the injured patient and reveal the results of an internal investigation. The process would be confidential, meaning that patients and doctors can speak frankly about what happened to a patient. This could potentially help doctors and hospitals be more open about what occurred during a botched surgery or other medical procedure. At any time either party could quit negotiation and take the dispute to court.

A Senate subcommittee has recommended passage of the bill. Other states have enacted similar "candor" programs and had some success.

Finding the truth at the root of many claims of medical negligence

One of the biggest concerns a patient has when filing a medical malpractice suit is finding out what occurred. Doctors and hospitals are reluctant to admit to mistakes. Getting a straight answer can be extremely difficult for patients, even if they originally had no intention of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. In fact, it is often only through discovery - the part of a case where each side prepares for trial - that the injured patient actually realizes the extent to which a doctor or hospital was negligent.

If the new bill would make it easier for patients and doctors to communicate about what happened to create a negative outcome, it would benefit patient safety. However, it is unclear if this bill will pass, and whether it will be effective if it does. In the meanwhile, patients who are injured in Iowa can get legal help regarding their injury by contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

At Hixson & Brown, P.C., our experienced attorneys protect the rights of injured patients.

Keywords: Medical malpractice, litigation, mediation, settlement negotiation.