Interviewer: How long are these cases? How long do they typically last? How long could they potentially last?

Bill Levinson: Okay. I’m doing a chiropractic negligence case right now in which the patient was injured in 2009. It’s now 2014. The case has been continued twice, and it’s going to go to trial in July of 2014, although I was just in court with the other side, and they’re making noises about wanting to continue it again. They can go for years. I don’t think that that’s particularly peculiar to medical negligence cases.

Most often here in King County, you file a case and you’ll have a trial date in a year and a half. If a case doesn’t settle, it will usually go to trial. Although, occasionally, continuances happen.

In my negligence case, my client had had two operations a year apart to try and correct a mess that was made of him, and after the first one, he was able to return to work, but the problem still existed. He had the second surgery, and the trial date’s approaching, but we were not able to tell what the long-term effect on his ability to work was. So we had to continue the case, and now his ability to work has pretty much stabilized, so there are times when continuances are perfectly appropriate.

Medical Negligence Case Process & Examples

Interviewer: The initial step, of course, is having that consultation with you. Then what happens from there?

Bill Levinson: Again, let’s assume that it’s a case that I feel is meritorious, or at least, for whatever reason, the next step should be taken. The first thing I will do is find the appropriate expert. Then, if it’s somebody I know, I ask for an informal opinion, for either little or no cost. Once I get the informal opinion that it’s something worthwhile, then I’ll proceed, or if it’s something that will be tremendously expensive, then I may associate with one or two of the firms that I normally do, where the investment might be $100,000 or $200,000.

Interviewer: What do you think is a success rate in a typical medical negligence case? Do people have a pretty decent chance of winning?

Bill Levinson: Obviously lawyers don’t take them because of the investment unless they think they’re going to win.

Now, that’s changed over time. Years ago I had a very, very sad case involving a woman in her forties and her husband. The woman had been in to have an angiography. That’s where they’re going into your heart with a wire, and then behind the wireis a camera. The wire is used to open and clear the passageway for the camera. The point of it is to look for what they call plaque, but it looks for obstructions in the arteries that go into the heart. Folks will, from time to time, be prescribed this to determine if they have a heart condition, for various indicators.

This young woman went in and they did the angiography. They did it, and when the family came to us, what had happened was, the lead wire had scraped the artery and a flap of skin or a flap of material was loose. It’s a real-time film. When the doctor looked at it, he saw this as an obstruction. It’s such an important obstruction, that he had the woman come in for surgery the next week. Ultimately she died.

There were two people involved: one who does the angiography; the other is the heart surgeon. Now, we sued both of them. We sued heart surgeon for unrelated reasons to this point. The heart surgeon – it was pretty demonstrable that he had been negligent, or at least the case against him was pretty good, because of how long it took him to do the surgery. The angiographer defended on the basis that the woman’s heart stopped because of something called an asystole. That’s when your heart stops for no reason.

Obviously the fact was that she didn’t need to have the surgery. It wasn’t plaque in her artery. It was a flap that was created by the lead wire, and this woman died. We lost the case against the angiographer. At the University of Washington they brought in at least five surgeons that said that he met the standard of care. We had a coroner that said he did not.