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December 19, 2023

Paralegals in Medical Negligence Cases

William T. McClure, member of the ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals and Personal Injury Attorney at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala in Tacoma, WA.

Paralegals play an essential role in assisting attorneys in medical negligence cases.  As a personal injury plaintiff attorney with a significant amount of my legal practice devoted to medical negligence claims, I utilize paralegals to tackle some of the unique challenges presented by these cases.  Like other litigation paralegals, paralegals working on medical negligence cases are essential for all the typically pertinent tasks and remain fundamental to all aspects of case screening, discovery, motion practice, and trial.

Yet, some of the more unique facets of medical negligence cases draw on the specialized knowledge of paralegals.  These types of cases often encompass years, or even decades, of a person’s medical history.  This results in voluminous medical records, often involving multiple health care entities from distinct or overlapping portions of that person’s life.  Organizing medical records and creating a patient care chronology is an essential paralegal task.  By arranging and synthesizing this vast sea of records, paralegals make the patient’s care easier to understand for attorneys and medical experts working on the case.

Paralegals also facilitate the medical knowledge of others working on the case.  Paralegals conduct research to find up-to-date medical journal articles and other resources to support the theory of the case.  These articles can include medical guidelines for the standard of care or studies showing expected outcomes for a patient in a given medical scenario.  Similarly, paralegals identify relevant policies, procedures, and treatment algorithms from the involved health care systems.  These principles can then be applied to the facts of the patient’s case to determine if proper care was received.  Like organized medical records, the relevant medical literature and the health care entity’s guidelines are foundational for these types of cases.  This critical work performed by paralegals allows attorneys to go into depositions well-informed about the patient, the area of medicine, and the expected standards for health care providers.

Paralegals’ knowledge of the medical issues also continues to be important when a case goes to trial. Based on the medical literature and the health care entity procedures reviewed, paralegals help plan the demonstrative exhibits to show to the jury.  Demonstrative exhibits can be posters, videos, or even physical models of the human body.  Paralegals have a part in discerning the types of exhibits to be placed in front of the jury and coordinate their creation and accuracy with experts.

On either side of a medical negligence case, paralegals are essential to attorneys’ advocacy for their clients.

On either side of a medical negligence case, paralegals are essential to attorneys’ advocacy for their clients.

Paralegals fill an important role for all parties in a medical negligence claim.  For a different perspective, I spoke with a colleague across the aisle.  Aida Babahmetovic is a partner at Johnson Graffe Moniz & Wick in Seattle, representing healthcare providers and entities.  Ms. Babahmetovic’s practice relies on skilled paralegals in defending against medical negligence claims.

Ms. Babahmetovic’s approach to a medical negligence case often involves different yet aligned parties.  For example, she may be counsel in a case representing a physician, and a different attorney represents the hospital employing her physician-client.  This reality requires cooperation between multiple defendants who may both be named parties in a medical negligence case.  In cases involving numerous defendants, Ms. Babahmetovic acknowledges that coordination regarding discovery and scheduling matters requires a paralegal’s high-level of diligence based on the complexity of these cases.

On either side of a medical negligence case, paralegals are essential to attorneys’ advocacy for their clients.  Paralegals distill complicated records, wade through mountains of medical literature, and facilitate the progression of a case through client and attorney communication.  Ms. Babahmetovic echoes this sentiment, “The crucial contributions of paralegals to my practice and the field of medical negligence defense allow practice in this area of the law to remain challenging and vibrant.”

William T. McClure is an attorney at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC in Tacoma, Washington. He can be reached at [email protected].