When Is it Too Late to Sue for Malpractice?

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We hold physicians, therapists and other medical providers to a high standard. When you or a loved one experiences an injury while under the care of a medical professional, you might be wondering how soon you need to act to sue for malpractice.

While you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in the years after the incident took place, it’s essential to be aware of the statute of limitations in your state. Working with a medical malpractice law firm like Janet, Janet & Suggs can help you meet these important deadlines and seek the financial compensation you deserve.

Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice

All medical malpractice lawsuits have a statute of limitations, or a time frame that specifies when you can file your claim with the court. Depending on the kind of lawsuit and the state where you are filing the case, this period of time may be as little as a few years or as many as ten years or more.

For instance, the medical malpractice statute of limitations to file a claim in some states is two and a half years. During this timeframe, you have the legal right to hire a medical malpractice lawyer licensed to practice law in that state and submit a lawsuit without having to worry whether the court will hear your case. If you fail to file your claim during this two-and-a-half-year time frame, the court will likely dismiss the lawsuit. The time frame you would have in other states depends on the kind of injury, how long ago it occurred, and when it was discovered.

Understanding the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be challenging. Partnering with a law firm like JJS, that has experienced malpractice lawyers, free consultations and a legal/medical team ready to take on your case, is a great place to start.

Understanding the Discovery Rule

Determining when the medical malpractice statute of limitations begins to run isn’t always easy. Unlike automobile negligence lawsuits where the statute of limitations starts the minute the accident transpires, knowing when medical malpractice occurs isn’t always as clear cut.

A claimant or plaintiff may not realize they’ve experienced medical malpractice for several weeks, months or years. For this reason, many states have implemented some kind of discovery rule.

A discovery rule suspends or tolls the medical malpractice statute of limitations until the injury is discovered—or reasonably should have been discovered—by the claimant. For example, some states have a three-year medical malpractice statute of limitations and a two-year discovery rule.

Using the above time frame, if a surgeon negligently left a foreign object inside of an individual during surgery and it wasn’t discovered until three years later, the plaintiff could still file a medical malpractice claim. Due to the discovery rule, that individual has two years after discovering the item to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

However, it’s important to remember that if the defendant can prove the statute of limitations passed because you should have discovered the object earlier, the court can throw your claim out.

Why the “Continuous Treatment Rule” Is Important

Other states have adopted a “Continuous Treatment Rule.” This rule states that the medical malpractice statute of limitations begins to run once the defendant or medical professional stops providing treatment to the individual for the condition or injury.

For example, some states have a medical malpractice statute of limitations of three years but also have implemented the continuous treatment rule. Let’s say a medical professional in one of these states made an error during surgery that resulted in harm to the individual during the operation. The same doctor continued to treat the individual for that injury for another three years. Therefore, the medical malpractice statute of limitations does not  start to run until the medical professional finishes treating that individual. So, in this case, an individual could file a medical malpractice lawsuit six years after the actual injury occurred.

The Infancy Toll and Medical Malpractice

Some states have also extended the time limit for individuals who were minors or, in some cases, infants when the injury occurred. Depending on your state, medical malpractice statute of limitations may be extended for a set number of years after the incident. Some states even extend the statute of limitations until the injured individual turns 18 years old.

For instance, say the actions of an OBGYN harmed an individual while they were in utero. If this happened in a state that has 15-year infancy tolling, then that individual has until they are 15 years old to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.The question of when it is too late to sue for malpractice can have a complicated answer. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations vary from state to state, with many states implementing other rules that are important to understand. If you want to know whether you still have time to sue for malpractice, take advantage of our malpractice lawyers’ free consultation to get your questions answered. Complete JJS’s online form today, and our team of legal and medical experts will evaluate your claim.

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