Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice Without a Lawyer in Washington?

by | May 14, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

When we seek medical care, we trust that these dedicated and highly qualified professionals will uphold the duty of care they owe their patients. In other words, we rely on their extensive educational background and comprehensive experience in the medical field to guide their approach to how they treat our ailments, injuries, or other health conditions. While most medical professionals treat their patients with the care and careful assessments they deserve, errors and oversights happen. Some medical mistakes are relatively minor and cause little to no damage, but others can lead to catastrophic, permanent, or even fatal outcomes. Medical malpractice comes in many forms, such as misdiagnosing a health condition, failing to diagnose a serious illness, surgical errors, medication errors, and other negligent oversights that threaten the health of the patient.

Washington state allows patients injured by negligent healthcare workers to file medical malpractice lawsuits in order to recover the compensation they need to support the costs of their recoveries. Moreover, if the patient suffers long-term damage or permanent disability, the compensatory damages they receive from the at-fault party can redress much of the pain, suffering, and hardship resulting from these preventable mistakes. If you believe that you may have a medical malpractice case, you have the option to move forward on your own or with the assistance of an experienced Seattle medical malpractice attorney. This post will highlight some basic information about how to file a medical malpractice lawsuit without a lawyer, as well as some of the reasons why many people decide to enlist legal representation to help them navigate the civil litigation process.

Understanding Medical Malpractice in Washington State

Medical malpractice claims typically involve a negligent party (such as a doctor, surgeon, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional) who fails to uphold the duty of care they owe to patients. The breach of the duty of care causes injury or harm (whether temporary or permanent) to the patient, resulting in unexpected and burdensome costs and economic hardship. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “medical malpractice claims are based on the legal theory of negligence.” In order to file a medical malpractice claim in Washington state, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) must establish four core elements to recover the compensation they are seeking. Let’s take a look at these four legal elements and how a plaintiff can provide support for each component to maximize their chances of recovering compensation from the at-fault party.

The Medical Professional Owed a Duty of Care to the Patient

First, the plaintiff must establish that they sought medical treatment from a healthcare professional. Essentially, duty of care is assumed whenever a physician interacts with a patient. As you build your medical malpractice lawsuit, you can provide evidence that establishes that a doctor-patient relationship existed between you and the medical provider. For example, you can point to medical records that show you as an established patient of the medical clinic or healthcare worker and argue that based on this physician-patient relationship, the medical professional inherently owes you a duty of care.

The Doctor Breached Their Duty of Care

Next, you will need to show that the doctor or healthcare worker failed to uphold the duty of care they owed you. In other words, this professional breached the duty of care by failing to adhere to the standards of the healthcare profession. You can also approach this element by showing that a reasonably prudent, similarly situated healthcare professional would have provided a certain standard of care and that the defendant failed to meet this standard of care when they treated you. In almost all medical malpractice cases, you will need to involve expert witness testimony from healthcare professionals who can describe the standard of care that the defendant failed to uphold.

The Breach of Duty Caused Injury to the Patient

Once you have established that the medical professional breached the duty of care owed to you, the next step is to draw a direct link between their negligence and the injuries or adverse health outcomes you endured as a result. There are many ways that you can establish a causal relationship between the provider’s failure to uphold the duty of care and the harm you suffered, such as medical records detailing the adverse conditions or injuries you developed at the hands of the negligent healthcare provider. The more evidence you can gather to illustrate the physical, economic, mental, and emotional impacts of these injuries, the more compelling your medical malpractice lawsuit can become. As with breach of duty, you will likely need to involve an expert witness who can testify that the harm to you was caused by the defendant’s malpractice.

You Deserve Damages For the Harm You Suffered

The final element of a medical malpractice lawsuit is demonstrating that damages were incurred by the injuries and that the legal system can provide redress for these wrongs. As the plaintiff, you can present the costly medical bills, physical therapy bills, medication receipts, and other documents that quantify the financial impact of these injuries at the hands of a negligent medical professional. You may also pursue noneconomic damages, which address the subjective losses you suffered as a result of the injuries. Noneconomic damages can address the plaintiff’s emotional pain, anguish, disability, disfigurement, loss of companionship, embarrassment, and loss of enjoyment. If your injuries will require ongoing medical treatment or they have interfered with your ability to work or hold a stable job, these impacts should be included in the compensatory damages you are hoping to recover from the at-fault party.

How to Sue for Medical Malpractice Without an Attorney

As you consider how to hold the negligent party accountable for the harm they caused, filing a medical malpractice lawsuit might appear as a viable option. In Washington state, it is indeed possible to pursue such a lawsuit without the assistance of a lawyer. Some people choose self-representation, either because they cannot secure counsel to represent them or they wish to avoid the costs associated with hiring legal counsel. The following discussion outlines some potential benefits and costs of managing your medical malpractice lawsuit on your own.

Potential Benefits and Costs of Self-Representation in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Potential Benefits of Self-Representation:

  1. Cost Savings: People may initially choose self-representation because they want to avoid attorney fees, thinking that managing their case independently can result in financial savings.
  2. Direct Control: Representing yourself gives you complete control over all aspects of your case, from deciding how to present your evidence to directly negotiating settlements. This can be particularly satisfying for those who want to be intimately involved in every decision.
  3. Personal Empowerment: For many, self-representation is empowering. Taking charge of your legal case can help you regain a sense of control and agency, especially after experiencing the vulnerability of medical malpractice.

Costs of Self-Representation:

  1. Time and Effort: The learning curve for legal procedures, terms, and tactics is steep. Self-represented litigants must invest significant time into researching laws, understanding court procedures, and preparing documents, which can be both time-consuming and mentally exhausting.
  2. Costs: It is typically very costly to pursue a medical malpractice case. Almost every case will require the support of expert witnesses (primarily doctors) who typically charge hundreds of dollars an hour or more for their work on a case. With the many other costs that come with a medical malpractice case, pursuing a case alone is prohibitively costly for most potential plaintiffs.
  3. Risk of Lower Compensation: Without the expertise of a trained attorney, you may not effectively navigate the complexities of the legal system, potentially leading to errors in filing paperwork, misinterpretation of the law, or ineffective negotiation tactics, all of which could result in lower compensation than might have been achieved with professional representation.
  4. Emotional and Psychological Stress: Managing your case can be stressful and emotionally taxing. The pressures of self-representation, particularly in a field as complex as medical malpractice, can impact your mental health and overall well-being.
  5. Potential for Procedural Missteps: The legal system is fraught with procedural requirements that can be challenging to adhere to without legal training. Missing deadlines, failing to meet court requirements, or improperly presenting evidence can jeopardize your case.

Weighing these potential benefits and costs carefully is essential for anyone considering self-representation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. While there are advantages, particularly in terms of costs and personal control, the risks and potential downsides are significant and must be considered to make an informed decision.

Considerations for Self-Representation in Medical Malpractice Cases

If you are contemplating how to sue a hospital without a lawyer or are interested in representing yourself in civil court, it’s crucial to understand that various resources are available to assist you in this endeavor. The civil court system in Washington provides numerous tools and support for those choosing to self-represent. Additionally, King County offers a document with tips and resources specifically designed for navigating civil lawsuits independently.

If you decide to pursue filing a lawsuit on your own, remember that flexibility remains in your legal journey. Should you begin the process independently and later find yourself overwhelmed by the complexities of your case, it’s important to know that you can seek professional help. At any point, you may choose to consult with a highly qualified Seattle medical malpractice attorney to obtain their trusted legal guidance and support, ensuring you are well-equipped to navigate the challenges of your case.

How a Skilled and Caring Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help

Coping with an unanticipated medical condition or injury is inherently overwhelming. One moment, you might be placing your trust in your doctor’s hands, and the next, you could be facing a permanent injury or disability due to a careless error. Navigating the aftermath of such an injury and adjusting to a new reality where legal action becomes necessary can seem daunting. However, you do not have to face this challenging journey alone. Engaging a dedicated and highly qualified Seattle medical malpractice attorney can provide the stability and peace of mind needed during such a turbulent period. Your medical malpractice attorney will collaborate closely with you to understand your goals and devise a robust legal strategy to maximize your compensation and hold negligent medical professionals accountable. No matter the specifics of your case, a skilled medical malpractice lawyer will diligently protect your interests and advocate vigorously on your behalf.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or adverse health condition at the hands of a negligent medical professional, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover the compensation you deserve. The professionals at Menzer Law Group can get you started on your journey with a complimentary case review. Our skilled team will carefully assess your claim to ensure it matches our areas of expertise and our focus on cases where we can have a profound impact. We understand the stress and emotional and physical injuries you may be experiencing, and we are committed to responding to you promptly and respectfully.