Can I Sue a Foreign Doctor for Malpractice in an American Court

Unfortunately, the answer is only maybe, and it may take a long time. American patients that opt to leave the United States to have procedures done overseas probably do not realize that they may be foregoing the legal protection of the American court system. This is part of the reason why procedures performed overseas are so much cheaper: other nations do not have the stringent legal and administrative protections required of American doctors. This could leave a patient bearing most of the brunt of any legal risks associated with such a procedure because it can be very difficult to successfully sue foreign doctors in the US or to bring an action as a foreign citizen overseas.

In the United States, there are many jurisdictional issues that could bar bringing a claim in an American court. Litigants would have to establish that the doctor had sufficient contacts with the United States for it to exert jurisdiction over him or her. Even if the court does find that it can take jurisdiction over the case, it has to determine which nation and state’s laws would apply.

Of course, these questions get even more murky when talking about the legal system of a foreign country. Some nations may not recognize rights to sue by foreigners. Others may bog down in administrative red tape far thicker than anything found in an American court. Some estimate cases for malpractice brought in foreign nations could take 20 years or more to resolve. Worse yet, some nations may try to transfer jurisdiction back to the United States and the US may refuse to accept it, creating a legal back and forth leaving the parties in limbo.

Even if one manages to get a court to take jurisdiction, enforcing a judgment may be nearly impossible. If the judgment is obtained in America, enforcing the judgment in a foreign nation may require filing an entirely new lawsuit to domesticate the judgment, which could take nearly as long as pursuing the case in that country in the first place. If the judgment is domestic, or if the nation agrees to domesticate the judgment of a US court, foreign laws regarding collection of judgments usually differ greatly from American laws and may interfere with seizing or levying on assets and accounts.

Generally speaking, from a legal standpoint, you may need to evaluate whether the risk of being left without legal redress in the event of a medical mistake is worth the potential cost savings of having your procedure performed overseas. With such limited remedies available to patients, and the often lower standards of care in nations offering substantially cheaper medical treatment rates, the risks of medical tourism may far exceed the benefits.

If you are considering medical tourism, discuss the possible risks with your American general practitioner and, if possible, a local attorney. If you have already undertaken to receive treatment from a foreign doctor, and have suffered an injury, you should discuss the particular details of your case with a qualified, experienced attorney. You will need to find an attorney that has experience not just with medical malpractice, but also with international legal disputes. Before undertaking any legal action against a foreign doctor, you should ask your attorney whether your claim will be worth the trouble of fighting an international legal battle. You may find that you do not have the same entitlements that you would when bringing a claim against an American doctor, and this might make a victory a hollow exercise and a waste of time and money.

To find an attorney in your area with the requisite mix of knowledge and experience, use the HG.org lawyer search function. There you will find hundreds of attorneys with a wide array of experience and backgrounds, including ones with the perfect skills for your case.