A statute of limitations is a type of law that prescribes a specific time frame for how long someone has to file a claim on a certain matter before they are barred from doing so. These laws apply to both civil and criminal actions, and their time limits will vary by jurisdiction and by the type of claim being filed.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is to place a restriction on how long a plaintiff or prosecutor will have to file a lawsuit or bring charges against a defendant. In other words, statutes of limitations act as a legally enforceable deadline for filing a case. If the plaintiff or prosecutor fails to file within that time frame, then a defendant can use this fact — that the statute of limitations expired — as a defense to get the case dismissed.

As an example, suppose a party to a contract breaches that contract and the non-breaching party wants to sue them to obtain a remedy for the breach. According to the statute of limitations for breach of contract actions in New York state, the non-breaching party will have up to six years to file a lawsuit against the breaching party. If six years have already passed, the non-breaching will be barred from bringing the claim.

What Are Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitations?

There are certain causes of action that will never expire because the law does not impose a statute of limitations on them. For instance, there is no statute of limitations for the crime of first-degree murder. Thus, a prosecutor can file charges against a murder suspect at any time.

On the other hand, medical malpractice actions do have a statute of limitations. Again, this means that a plaintiff will only have a certain amount of time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a defendant. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare provider falls below the professional standard of care when treating, diagnosing, or managing a patient, which then results in an injury to that patient.

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions can be tricky to navigate. The reason being is because it can take several months or years for a patient to discover that something has gone wrong in treating them. The same can be said about medical negligence claims since this type of negligence is usually the foundation of what most medical malpractice actions are based on.

Since in some medical malpractice cases it is not immediately obvious that a patient has suffered harm, there may be certain exceptions where a patient will still be allowed to file after the primary period for filing has tolled.

For example, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice in California is no later than three years after the injury occurred. However, if the patient could not have reasonably discovered the injury before three years and eventually does, then they will have one year from the time that they discovered the injury to file.

What is the Medical Malpractice Discovery Rule?

As mentioned in the example above, some state laws will provide an exception if an injury could not have been reasonably discovered until after the standard statute of limitations window expired. In contrast, other states do not provide any exceptions and thus a plaintiff will still be barred from bringing a lawsuit regardless of the circumstances.

In the states that do provide an exception to statutes of limitations for medical malpractice actions, this exception is known as the “discovery rule”. In general, this rule basically says that the time limit for filing an action will not start to run either until the injury is discovered or until the patient and/or their physician should have reasonably discovered it.

For instance, suppose a surgeon leaves a sponge or medical instrument inside a patient during a surgery. At first, the patient has no symptoms, but after a while the internal object starts to cause serious health issues. The patient returns to either the surgeon or another physician to find out what is causing their new health problem. If the treating healthcare provider discovers the object at that appointment, then the statute of limitations will start to run for that patient.

Do Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitation Vary by State?

In general, medical malpractice laws will vary by state. This includes the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. For instance, some states (e.g., California) will make exceptions to their filing deadlines if the medical malpractice claim contained fraud. Most states will also have separate timelines if a case involves leaving a foreign object in a patient during surgery that is not discovered until much later.

In addition, many states will provide different filing deadlines if the plaintiff to a medical malpractice suit is a child. These laws will permit a child to reach a certain age before they must file the case.

How Do I Use These Statutes of Limitations?

In order to comply with statutes of limitations for medical malpractice deadlines, the majority of states use the following formula:

  • The statute will provide a certain period of time (e.g., either from the injury or from the discovery of an injury) that a plaintiff will have to file their claim;
  • If a plaintiff fails to file within that time frame, then they are deemed to have waived the right to bring an action unless there is some exception.

Again, this basic outline is subject to changes since the laws and requirements will vary by state.

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

The best way to go about finding the medical malpractice time limit (i.e., statute of limitations) for a specific state is to check with a legal resource or to call an attorney. An individual can also find these regulations by visiting a court website or by conducting a quick Internet search. However, be weary of where the information comes from because unless it is from a website for a state government or court, then it may be outdated.

Below is a current chart of the statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions in every state. It should be noted that this information is subject to changes and there may be certain exceptions or limitations according to the laws of each 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

*Discovery rule is limited to specific actions in the corresponding state.

Do You Need an Attorney for Help with a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Medical malpractice actions often involve serious injuries that can be both financially and physically taxing on the victim. Thus, you may want to hire a local personal injury lawyer if you believe you have been injured as a result of medical malpractice.

Your attorney will be able to determine whether you have enough evidence to bring a lawsuit, can ensure that your case is filed before the statute of limitations expires, and can provide representation on your behalf in court if necessary.