As with most civil matters, medical malpractice lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations, a statutory timeframe within which a plaintiff must file suit in order to have a valid cause of action.
If a lawsuit against a doctor, hospital malpractice, or any healthcare professional or facility is not filed within the statutory period, the patient or plaintiff loses the right to sue for compensation. For this reason, it is essential that a person who feels he or a family member has been injured due to the negligence of a health care provider consult an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice claims as soon as the malpractice is suspected.
Statutes of limitations are determined by each state, and can vary from six months to four years. In most states, there are certain circumstances in which the statute of limitations can be modified or tolled. In these situations, in the interest of justice, it may be possible to bring a legal action after the normal statutory time limit has expired. These modifications vary from state to state. Variations on standard statutes of limitations found in many states include the following:
1.) Tolling of Statute of Limitations: In cases involving minors and mentally incompetent persons, the statute of limitations is tolled for a certain period in most states. In several states, the statute is tolled when a plaintiff is incarcerated.
2.) Discovery Rules: In some states, the statute of limitations period begins from the date of the discovery of damage, rather than from the actual date of the alleged negligence.
3.) Statutes of Repose: In some states, both those with a discovery rule and those in which the statute of limitations begins to accrue from date of negligence, a mandatory statute of repose cuts off the ability to file suit past a certain date, regardless of the date of the alleged negligence or discovery of damage.
4.) Intentional Fraud or Omission: Certain states also toll the statute of limitations in cases involving healthcare professionals found to be intentionally misleading the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s representatives, or deliberately covering up medical malpractice. Lawyers will want to know about this.
5.) Foreign Bodies: In most states, the statute of limitations is extended or even tolled entirely in cases involving foreign bodies or objects left in a patient following a surgery or other medical procedure.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are difficult, and should always be handled by an attorney who specializes in this highly complex area of law. A specialist’s targeted expertise will ensure that the plaintiff’s rights are protected at each stage of the legal action. A malpractice attorney will be well versed in the statutes of limitations that apply in the state in which he practices.