Medical malpractice may happen to anyone. When this happens, you have the right to file for a lawsuit against healthcare professionals who were involved in your treatment. It’s important to file it as soon as you’ve suspected such case because the statute of limitations may run out.
The statute of limitations refers to the time limit of filing a case in court. Its purpose is to make sure that lawsuits are addressed in a timely manner. Depending on your state, time limits may vary. But generally, two years is the average limit from the date you discovered the illness or injury. However, there are exceptions. To learn more about it, take time to read the following:
1. Discovery Rule And The Panel
The period of harm is the time when you must file a medical malpractice suit. Courts may require you to undergo an interview with a panel before they accept your claim. The panel consists of experts who will decide whether malpractice was committed. They’ll base their decision on the testimony and evidence you’ll present.
Although the result will not reward you for the damages, it’s an integral process to bring your case to court. This is essential because courts usually rely on the findings of the panel.
2. Obtaining Medical Records May Take Time
One reason why you need to immediately file a lawsuit for medical malpractice claims is the lengthy process. If you seek lawyers’ assistance, they’ll also conduct their own detailed interview. They need to obtain information like your medical records, witnesses, and other documents that contain evidence of medical negligence. These documents are vital to prove your allegation, but acquiring them may take time.
But if you work with a reputable and experienced lawyer, they can help you acquire such documents after determining if your claim has merits upon interviewing you. Then, you may have to authorize your lawyer by signing limited power of attorney documents. These are necessary so your lawyer can retrieve your medical records in reference of your claims on your behalf.
While other medical records like X-rays may be easily accessible on online platforms, some records may take several months before retrieving. Sometimes it could even take much more time. And time is of the essence when filing a medical lawsuit. You don’t want to exhaust all the remaining time when you don’t file it quickly enough.
3. Discovery Rule Exception
The discovery rule refers to the ‘actual’ time you discovered that medical negligence was committed. This is when the statute of limitations starts. However, there’s an exception to this rule – it’s when you recognize that you’re a victim of medical malpractice months or years after you’ve received medical care.
For instance, you had an operation and you only discovered complications months or years after. Another example would be when an X-ray that shows a piece of surgical equipment was left inside your body years after a surgical procedure. These instances will still make filing a medical malpractice lawsuit acceptable even after the statute of limitations expires.
This is how the discovery rule exception functions. However, it will still start at the time you’ve suspected that there’s a problem after consulting with multiple doctors, even if during these times, you still haven’t filed a lawsuit or resolved the issue.
4. Stopping The Statute Of Limitations Countdown
While it’s natural that time will run when you start filing the case, some instances could delay the countdown. This means you recognize the necessity to file a lawsuit, but some circumstances occur which prevent you from filing the case. In such instances, your lawyer can help you use the tolling principles to recalculate the statutory filing deadline.
Some of which are the following:
- Wrongful Death: If the claimant or the victim dies due to a medical error, the family can still file a lawsuit even if the time limit has expired. It will be classified as a wrongful death litigation.
- Legal Events: When medical establishments file for bankruptcy, the countdown pauses. It will only resume once the bankruptcy court discontinues the proceedings.
- Fraud: This happens when you return to the same doctor when you feel something’s off and they realize they’ve committed medical negligence, then they deliberately alter your medical records to cover their mistakes. If this happens and you only became aware after a different physician confirms the mistake, the countdown will also toll. Since this conduct is fraudulent in nature and it inhibits you to file a case, the statute of limitations will pause. But the time will still start to run on the date you first suspect fraud.
- Mentally Incapacitating Injuries: Some cases of medical malpractice may lead to traumatic brain injuries, which will incapacitate you to file a lawsuit. In these cases, the statute of limitations will stop running. However, the toll will depend on the level of incapacitation. For instance, the court will not restart the countdown until you finish therapy in cases of cognitive disabilities.
- Minority: The statute of limitations resets when the minor patient turns 18 years old.
Medical professionals have the binding duty to provide quality care to a patient. Thus, if you feel like you haven’t received the correct medical care or treatment, you may consult a lawyer to help you start an investigation. If you proceed to file a lawsuit, you should always consider the factors affecting the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases.