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Can You Sue Doctors for Medical Malpractice in Other Countries?

With constant improvements in transportation technology, along with massive decreases in the cost of international travel, the old saying that “the world is getting smaller” is truer than ever before. The wealthy have long enjoyed the benefits of international travel, but now “average” Americans can easily travel, too.

As you’ll see in this article, people travel abroad for more reasons than just leisure. Traveling abroad for medical and dental treatments is quite common. In 2017, 1.4 million Americans traveled to another country to receive healthcare. Additionally, traditional tourists may have an accident and require medical care while traveling.

As we all know, sometimes medical treatment goes wrong, and this raises an interesting question. Can you sue doctors in other countries for medical malpractice? In this article, we’ll discuss what options someone has when they are the victim of medical malpractice in another country, plus the challenges they may run into (PDF).

Medical malpractice in other countries

Who needs to worry about suing foreign doctors?

As mentioned, anyone who travels internationally could foresee a circumstance leading to medical treatment abroad. Automobile accidents, heart attacks, illness, and other unexpected medical emergencies can occur overseas during travel, just like they do at home. In this case, a traveler typically has little to no options other than to receive medical care in the country where they are traveling.

Moreover, the concept of “medical tourism” is popular with millions of Americans. Medical tourism refers to people that visit a country other than their own for medical treatment. Sometimes, people go abroad to seek treatment, such as a particular drug for a particular disease, that is not permitted in the United States. Other times, people visit countries that have well-trained doctors who can perform surgeries, both elective and otherwise, at a cost much less expensive than in the United States. In fact, savings can be as much as 88%, even after factoring in the cost of travel.

Where do you sue when a foreign doctor commits medical malpractice?

When a doctor commits malpractice overseas, in most instances, it will not be possible to obtain jurisdiction to sue the doctor in an Oregon court. There may be rare circumstances in which a doctor has the contacts with an American jurisdiction required to sue here, but that will be the rare exception.

Even if a patient obtains a judgment in the United States, it may be very difficult to enforce the judgment in a foreign country. Ultimately, a malpractice victim will likely be faced with pursuing a claim abroad.

What are the challenges of suing for medical malpractice in other countries?

The manner in which medical malpractice is addressed in countries around the world varies widely. For example, many countries do not permit jury trials. In these locations, judges or administrators may make the final decision.

Moreover, malpractice awards, even when they are given, are often much lower than amounts received in the United States, giving rise to the argument that injured patients may not be fully compensated for their losses in overseas jurisdictions.

Finally, there are logistical difficulties. A foreign lawsuit necessitates retention of a foreign attorney and physical presence in the foreign country for legal proceedings. Importantly, many foreign countries do not permit attorneys to take cases on a contingent fee basis. Finally, language barriers may present significant communication challenges.

When to consult with an attorney

We certainly understand that some people have a great need for the cost savings available for medical treatment abroad. But it’s also important to consider whether there are protections available in a foreign jurisdiction if something goes wrong. After all, the American legal system is built on the foundation that society is safeguarded when wrongdoers are held legally accountable for their actions. If you have questions about medical malpractice, please call the experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield and we will be happy to answer them.