Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations
Authored by Ken LaMance
, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law
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What is a Statute of Limitation?
A statue 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, the right to file the lawsuit is forever lost.
Because of this fact, lawyers must be extremely diligent about keeping track of statutes of limitations for their clients’ claims, and allowing a statute of limitations to run before filing a lawsuit is a very common reason for the filing of attorney malpractice
What are Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations?
Medical Malpractice lawsuits are no exception, and they have own set of statute of limitations; but 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, with medical malpractice, this is not always the case. 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 get more severe over time. It might take a very long time before a doctor figures out 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, they would be out of luck, under the traditional rules. This has led to some very unfair results – with patients not discovering their injuries for years being denied any type of recovery.
As a result, some states have instated what’s known as 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 when 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 show up, the patient begins coughing up blood. This is a serious medical problem, and should clue the patient into the fact that something is wrong. A reasonably diligent person would go to a doctor to try to diagnose the problem, at which point the cause could probably be discovered. This is the point at which the statute of limitations would being to run for that patient, since his symptoms would clue any reasonable person into the fact that something was very wrong.
Common Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitation
The statute of limitations varies from state to state. Here are a few examples.
- California: 3 years from date of injury, or 1 year from date of discovery of the injury, whichever occurs first
- New York: 3 years, with discovery rule applying in some cases
- Illinois: 2 years from the date the patient knew or reasonably should have known of the injury
- Texas: 2 years, discovery rule applies, but only up to 10 years after the injury occurs
- Florida: 2 years from the time the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered
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Last Modified: 03-25-2014 03:26 PM PDT
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