Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

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What Is a Statute of Limitation?

A statute of limitation is a law which imposes a time limit for filing certain types of lawsuits. Generally, they require that lawsuits be filed within a few years after the alleged injury occurred. Otherwise, you will lose your right to a legal remedy. This usually occurs after the defendant files a motion to dismiss.

Because of this fact, lawyers must be extremely diligent about keeping track of statutes of limitations for their clients’ claims; allowing a statute of limitations to run before filing a lawsuit is a very common reason for the filing of attorney malpractice claims.

What Are Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitations?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are no exception, and they have their own statutes of limitations; however, there are a few wrinkles in this area of the law.

In the majority of lawsuits other than those for medical malpractice, the alleged injury is plainly obvious. However, in medical malpractice cases, the injury is not always apparent. In fact, it might take months or years after the negligent conduct takes place before the patient is aware that anything has gone wrong. For example, a piece of equipment left in a patient during surgery can cause non-specific symptoms which start out mild, and become more severe over time. It might take a very long time before a doctor determines the exact cause of the symptoms.

Medical Malpractice Discovery Rule

If the cause of the patient’s injury is discovered after the statute of limitations has run, under the traditional rules, the patient will be unable to pursue a medical malpractice claim. As a result, many patients were treated unfairly in that they were denied any type of recovery after not having discovered their injury until several years after the negligent conduct occurred.

Because of this injustice, some states have adopted a "discovery rule" for medical malpractice statutes of limitations. Under this rule, the statute of limitations period does not begin to run until the injury is discovered, or the patient (or his or her physician) reasonably should have discovered it.

For example, suppose that a negligent doctor causes an injury which does not display symptoms for months after it occurs. Once symptoms appear, the patient begins coughing up blood. This is a serious medical problem, and should signal to the patient that something is wrong. A reasonably diligent person would visit a doctor in order to have the problem diagnosed, at which point the cause could probably be discovered. This is the point at which the statute of limitations would begin to run for that patient, since his symptoms would clue any reasonable person into the fact that something was very wrong.

Do Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitation Vary by State?

Statutes of limitations for filing medical malpractice claims vary by state. Most states have a maximum deadline to file a claim. Several states make exceptions to their filing deadlines for cases involving fraud or other dishonest behavior. Many states have separate rules for cases in which a foreign object is accidentally left in a patient and is much later discovered. In addition, many states have different filing deadlines where children are plaintiffs; frequently these laws allow children to reach a certain age before filing a claim.

How Do I Use These Statutes of Limitations?

Most states follow a simple model: the patient has a certain period of time from the injury, or from discovery of the injury, to file his or her claim. If the patient waits too long, the patient waives the right to bring the claim to court.

For example: In California, the patient can file a claim for malpractice within one year of the injury, or within one year that the patient discovered or could have reasonably discovered, the injury. The patient can wait longer than a year to file a clam in California, but the patient cannot exceed three years. So the statue of limitations for medical malpractice in California would be one year from injury or discovery of injury, with a maximum time of three years from said injury or discovery. 

Where Can I Find the Statute of Limitations For My State?

Below is a table for the statute of limitations in all states. All states follow the model described above unless specifically noted otherwise. Please note that the numbers are subject to change and/or certain exceptions.

* Discovery rule is limited to certain types of claims in this state

State
Time After Treatment/Injury
Time After Later Discovery
Maximum Time
Alabama
2 years
Up to 6 months
4 years
Alaska
2 years
Up to 2 years
N/A
­Arizona
2 years
Up to 2 years
N/A
Arkansas
2 years
N/A
2 years
California
1 year
Up to 1 year
3 years
Colorado
2 years
Up to 2 years
3 years
Connecticut
2 years
Up to 2 years
3 years
Delaware
2 years
Up to 1 additional year
3 years
District of Columbia
3 years
Up to 3 years
N/A
Florida
2 years
Up to 2 years
4 years
Georgia
2 years
Up to 2 years
5 years
Hawaii
2 years
Up to 2 years
6 years
Idaho
2 years
Up to 1 year*
N/A
Illinois
2 years
Up to 2 years
4 years
Indiana
2 years
N/A
2 years
Iowa
2 years
Up to 2 years
6 years
Kansas
2 years
Up to 2 years
4 years
Kentucky
1 year
Up to 1 year
5 years
Louisiana
1 year
Up to 1 year
3 years
Maine
3 years
N/A
3 years
Maryland
5 years
Up to 3 years
5 years
Massachusetts
3 years
Up to 3 years
7 years
Michigan
2 years
Up to 6 months
6 years
Minnesota
4 years
N/A
4 years
Mississippi
2 years
Up to 2 years
7 years
Missouri
2 years
Up to 2 years*
N/A
Montana
3 years
Up to 3 years
5 years
Nebraska
2 years
Up to 1 year
10 years
Nevada
3 years
Up to 2 years
N/A
New Hampshire
2 years
Up to 2 years*
N/A
New Jersey
2 years
Up to 2 years
N/A
New Mexico
3 years
N/A
3 years
New York
2.5 years
Up to 1 year*
2.5 years
North Carolina
2 years
Up to 1 year
4 years
North Dakota
6 years
N/A
6 years
Ohio
1 year
Up to 1 year
4 years
Oklahoma
2 years
Up to 2 years
N/A
Oregon
2 years
Up to 2 years
5 years
Pennsylvania
2 years
Up to 2 years
7 years
Rhode Island
3 years
Up to 3 years
N/A
South Carolina
3 years
Up to 3 years
6 years
South Dakota
2 years
N/A
2 years
Tennessee
1 year
Up to 1 year
3 years
Texas
2 years
N/A
10 years
Utah
2 years
Up to 2 years
4 years
Vermont
3 years
Up to 2 years
7 years
Virginia
2 years
Up to 1 year*
10 years
Washington
3 years
Up to 1 year
8 years
West Virginia
2 years
Up to 2 years
10 years
Wisconsin
3 years
Up to 1 year
5 years
Wyoming
2 years
Up to 2 years
N/A

D

Do You Need an Attorney?

Medical malpractice claims can often involve serious injuries that can be costly to the victim. You may need to hire a personal injury lawyer if you need assistance with a medical malpractice liability claim. Your attorney can help determine which party or parties might be liable for your injury, and can help represent you during the actual lawsuit. 

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Last Modified: 10-09-2015 01:25 PM PDT

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