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Formal requirements to commence a medical malpractice lawsuit

One of the positive aspects of Louisiana's enactment of a body of statutory law governing medical malpractice claims is that it establishes a degree of regularity to the initiation, negotiation, settlement and if need be litigation of patients' claims against health care providers and institutions.

At the same time, though, the statutory framework for medical malpractice claims can unintentionally create pitfalls for unwary claimants: the same specific requirements that create regularity and certainty can also result in the claim being inadvertently sabotaged if those requirements are not met.

For example, rather than being able to immediately file a lawsuit directly against the defendants, as is the case with ordinary negligence actions, Louisiana law requires prospective plaintiffs to take an intermediate step via a medical review panel. This, in turn, requires a number of specific procedures that further require specific elements of information. On top of this, the procedures must also be done within limited times.

So, for example, a request for a medical review panel must be sent to a particular address or fax number, and must state that it is a formal request, identify the parties (plaintiffs and defendants) to the anticipated lawsuit, describe the claimed act of malpractice and when it happened, and the injuries that resulted.

The failure to comply with any one of these requirements can jeopardize the entire claim: the requirements clearly state that such failure will "render the request for review of a malpractice claim invalid and without effect."

It is possible for a careful individual who makes a thorough reading of the requirements to commence a medical malpractice action to comply with everything he or she needs to do, but given the potential stakes -- recompense for an injury resulting from medical malpractice or hospital negligence, versus having the claim defeated on technical grounds -- it may be advisable to retain the services of a personal injury attorney who is already familiar with the legal requirements to minimize the possibility of an oversight becoming a roadblock to recovery.

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