What Is the Certificate of Merit in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

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A medical malpractice lawsuit involves a patient going up against a doctor, hospital or health care center in pursuit of justice and financial compensation for negligence-related damages. Since it would not be in a community’s best interest to have a health care center go bankrupt because of malpractice liability, most states have enacted strict requirements claimants must follow. One of the requirements in Florida is to submit a certificate of merit.

The Elements of a Certificate of Merit

A certificate of merit is an affidavit from a relevant health care professional. An affidavit is a sworn statement confirmed to be true under oath or by affirmation, typically used as evidence during court trials. In a medical malpractice case, a certificate of merit establishes that a health care professional with knowledge on the subject reviewed the plaintiff’s case and agreed the injured party has grounds to file. The certificate of merit confirms the validity of the case to prevent wasting the court’s time on unfounded or frivolous lawsuits.

Florida Statute 766.104 states that all medical malpractice plaintiffs must file preliminary notices with the health care providers allegedly at fault for the injury before bringing claims in the civil courts. These notices must include a description of the alleged malpractice, a list of damages sought and a certificate of merit from an appropriate health care expert. The medical professional generally must either practice or have recently practiced within the same field as the defendant. In a case involving an orthopedic surgical mistake, for example, an orthopedic surgeon should sign the affidavit.

Once the defendant receives the preliminary notice of intent to sue, it has 90 days to file a response. It could respond by accepting the claim and beginning settlement negotiations with the claimant, or it could respond with a denial. If it denies the claim, it must include a valid reason. If the defendant does not respond within 90 days or issues a denial, the claimant then has the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit with the civil court.

How To Obtain a Certificate of Merit

If you believe you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim, one of the first things you should do is contact a Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can explain your statute of limitations and help you file all the required paperwork by the deadline. This includes obtaining a certificate of merit. A lawyer can connect you with an appropriate medical expert to fill out your affidavit, increasing your chances of the courts accepting your claim as valid.

  • A health care provider with an active license to practice
  • A provider who has conducted a thorough review of relevant medical records
  • Someone who shares the same specialty as the defendant
  • A provider who has actively practiced medicine (or taught) in that specialty in the past three years
  • A physician who qualifies as an expert witness with a working knowledge of medical standards of care

You or your attorney can request an additional 90 days added to the settlement process if you need more time to find a medical expert. However, your lawyer will need to file this request before the expiration of the original statute of limitations. A lawyer can also help you negotiate a fair settlement with the doctor or hospital’s insurance company if the defendant responds to your claim favorably.

How To File Your Certificate of Merit

Once you or your attorney work with a medical expert to investigate your claim and obtain a certificate of merit, file it with your notice of intent to sue with the physical or health care center allegedly at fault for your damages. The certificate will state that a medical professional has a good faith belief in your grounds for legal action. This written opinion may convince the defendant to take the case seriously and offer a fair settlement. If not, the certificate of merit may become evidence during a medical malpractice trial.