Got Sued? What Initially Happens When a Lawsuit is Filed
Elizabeth Rudolph JD, MSN, RN
No one goes to work with the idea that they will be sued for malpractice today. However, nurses understand that not all patients will get well, and some patients will believe they were misdiagnosed or mistreated. When you receive court documents, whether by mail, by deputy sheriff, or private process server, your life will change, and you will need expert help to reduce your liability and discomfort.
The beginning of a lawsuit. A lawsuit begins when the person suing, called the plaintiff, hires an attorney and files official papers at the courthouse. This is called the complaint. After filing the complaint, the plaintiff or the court notifies the person being sued, called the defendant, by serving official papers called a summons, or cover sheet, and a copy of the complaint to them. This is how the lawsuit begins. The summons directs the defendant to answer the complaint within a certain time frame. Failure to answer in a timely fashion can cause the defendant to default and automatically lose the lawsuit. When you receive these papers you should immediately contact your supervisor and ask to talk to your employer’s attorney. Because you may only have approximately thirty days to answer this complaint, make sure your supervisor, or appropriate individual, sets up your meeting with the attorney within a few days. If you carry your own malpractice or liability insurance, check your policy and notify your insurance carrier at once.
In high dollar lawsuits, consider using an attorney. While you may, or may not, want to hire an attorney, consider that most malpractice cases involve large sums of money. Probably the most sensible action nurses can take to protect their professional and financial interests in a legal action is to get an attorney, whether it be the employer’s attorney or your own attorney. Do it early! Through the help of your attorney, if you follow the legal rules and protocols, any financial or emotional stress could be minimized.
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