by Laurie Higginbotham
Your actions before coming to a medical malpractice attorney or VA malpractice attorney can sometimes make or break your personal injury, medical malpractice or Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case. Here are a few things you should do, and NOT do, before you even contact an attorney.
- DO gather all military and private medical records related to, and following, the incident. Any law firm that you hire will need to review medical records related to the injury from the military or VA hospital where the injury occurred and from private clinics, rehabilitation centers, or personal physicians. These records are necessary to evaluate and prove any military medical malpractice or VA medical malpractice case. In addition, it is helpful to make a list of the names of all relevant medical providers even if you haven’t obtained the records yet.
- DO locate the last five years of income tax records, W-2 forms, and pay stubs of the injured person. The law requires each claimant to submit proof of any lost wages or the loss of earning capacity, which will be based in part on your past earnings. Summarize your work history and your educational background if you don’t have a current resume. If the victim of medical malpractice is a child, gather this information for both parents of the child. If the victim is retired, gather information on retirement or disability benefits.
- DO gather family photos & video tapes from before and after the incident. In any medical malpractice case or FTCA medical malpractice case, we must prove that the negligence of the defendant medical providers caused the claimants severe harm. Family pictures and video tapes from before and after the injury are helpful because they show just how much the medical malpractice has changed your life. All originals will be returned to you, or you can provide copies to us.
- DO obtain copies of birth certificates for all claimants and marriage certificates for any married claimants. Sometimes these documents are required before a claim can be settled, to prove claimants are related.
- If victim is deceased, DO have a court appoint an administrator of the estate. When filing a wrongful death case, it is necessary to have the proper legal authorization to represent the deceased person or the estate in an FTCA case. This can easily be done through a lawyer specializing in wills and estates in your state.
- If victim is deceased, DO obtain a copy of the death certificate, autopsy report, and will (if one exists). These documents sometimes play an important role.
- DO NOT blog, email, or post notes on social network sites about the details of your case. This may be the most common way that a client can hurt their own case. Anything you write or say about the case can be used against you by government attorneys. Comments made to friends or pictures on sites such as Facebook or Instagram may be used to discredit your case. Even web pages on a private setting are not necessarily secure, and may still be discoverable by defense lawyers. Many people are not careful about what they write on the web and even a casual remark reassuring a friend that you are “doing okay after the injury” can be used to undermine your claim. While it may be tempting to share news with family and friends about an ongoing illness or injury through websites like Caringbridge.org, avoid posting any details about the incident or ongoing treatment. Remember, even what you delete from the web can usually be retrieved so please refrain from posting.
- DO NOT vent or argue with providers about what went wrong, especially in writing. Any correspondence or emails with the military hospital or VA hospital, doctors or military officials can hurt you in the long run.
- DO NOT throw away or permanently mark on any medical records. Your medical records are essential evidence in your medical malpractice case. Do not deface them in any way with markers, highlighters or pens. If absolutely necessary, you may feel free to use sticky-notes to communicate information to your lawyer.
- DO NOT miss any doctor’s appointments. Your actions as a patient will be scrutinized by defense lawyers in an effort to find fault with your behavior or minimize your injuries. It is important that you properly follow your physician’s instructions and do not miss any post-injury appointments. If the judge or jury does not believe you will attend appointments, it will be hard to convince him/her that damages for future medical care should be awarded or that you have a serious injury.
- DO NOT WAIT to contact a lawyer specializing in medical malpractice, personal injury and the FTCA. Many medical malpractice claims and all Federal Tort Claims Act have a Statute of Limitations of two years. If you miss that deadline, your claim is forever barred. Also, an attorney will need time to evaluate and build your case. This process can take a few months, so it is important you contact a lawyer as soon as you suspect medical negligence may have occurred.