What is a Certificate of Merit?

In a medical malpractice case, a certificate of merit is a written statement that confirms that the plaintiff's legal action has merit. In other words, it confirms that the plaintiff has a valid reason to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

When the plaintiff contacts an attorney about the medical malpractice case, most States require that the plaintiff obtain this certificate before taking legal action against the defendant. The certificate is usually issued by a medical practitioner in a similar field (and position).

What Is the Purpose of a Certificate of Merit?

The medical field is prone to lawsuits. For this reason, some medical practitioners fail to perform their duties to the best of their abilities due to the fear of lawsuits. In addition, these medical professionals may need to pay higher insurance premiums to protect themselves from legal action against them.

As a result, a certificate of merit ensures that a medical malpractice case is valid. In other words, it protects medical professionals from unfounded claims.

When the plaintiff obtains this certificate, it shows that the defendant was negligent in executing their job responsibilities.

What Happens If You Do Not Have a Certificate of Merit?

Most jurisdictions have a deadline for filing a certificate of merit before the hearing. Failure to honor this deadline could jeopardize the entire case. The court could rule that the plaintiff does not have a valid claim due to their inability to obtain the certificate.

What Does a Certificate of Merit Contain?

A typical certificate of merit contains an overview of the claim being filed by the plaintiff, the credentials of the certifying medical practitioner, and a confirmation that the medical practitioner is familiar with the acceptable and applicable medical standard of care. This certificate also includes the medical professional's opinion on how the defendant breached the standard of care and how the breach led to the plaintiff's injury (or death).

Lastly, the medical professional certifying the claim will need to confirm that they have no financial interest in the claim and may testify as an expert in the case if the need arises.

Can I Get a Certificate of Merit From My Own Doctor?

In most states, your doctor cannot write you a certificate of merit. This ensures that there are no personal interests in the case. The argument here is that your own doctor might feel inclined to write the certificate in your favor due to your client-doctor relationship.

How Do I File a Certificate of Merit?

The exact process of filing a certificate of merit varies from one jurisdiction to another. For example, in some states, you may be required to file this certificate with the court even before you file the Complaint (the lawsuit). In other States, you must file the certificate of merit along with the complaint.

In addition, some states might hold a separate hearing to discuss the certificate of merit. The findings will then determine whether or not to proceed with the case. In other states, the certificate of merit will be required but not discussed unless the defense raises an issue about it.

At Morgan and Morgan, we understand how stressful it can be to obtain this certificate. Bear in mind that the rules vary from state to state. But you should not worry about that when you have our medical malpractice attorneys fighting for you. We can help you obtain a certificate of merit that meets all your state's requirements, increasing your chances of getting favorable results from the medical malpractice lawsuit.

What Happens If the Court Rejects the Certificate of Merit?

Again, this will depend on the jurisdiction. In some states, when the certificate of merit is rejected, this marks the end of the case. In other states, the plaintiff might need to file an appeal or revise the certificate.

That said, some states might allow the plaintiff to proceed with the medical malpractice lawsuit under the condition that they must post a bond to cover the defendant's court expenses. 

What Happens If I Cannot Find a Certificate of Merit to Certify My Claim?

This will also depend on the laws of your state. In some states, failure to obtain this certificate means the case won't proceed. In other states, such as New York, you may be allowed to proceed with the case. However, to proceed, you must prove that you tried (but failed) to obtain the certificate.

In New York, a medical malpractice attorney must demonstrate that they made three “good faith” attempts to obtain this certificate from a medical provider but failed. Specifically, they must show that the medical practitioners they contacted to certify the case would not agree to meet with the attorney for this purpose. In that case, the court might allow the attorney to proceed with the case.

How Can Morgan and Morgan Medical Malpractice Attorneys Help?

If you or your loved one has been injured by a medical practitioner's negligence and you live in a state that requires a certificate of merit before filing a claim, we might be able to help. Because we are the largest personal injury law firm in the United States, we have access to powerful legal resources and a network of medical professionals that can help review and certify your case if valid.

All you need to do is fill out our free case evaluation form, and one of our legal representatives will contact you as soon as possible.