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How Long Do You Have to Sue a Doctor?
Whenever you believe you have grounds to take legal action against another party for civil damages, you must first ensure you meet the statute of limitations for your claim. A statute of limitations is essentially a time limit for filing legal claims. Different statutes exist for different types of claims, and the laws concerning these statutes vary from state to state.
A medical malpractice claim is a complex civil action that typically requires a claim review from a medical board before it can proceed, and symptoms from some medical conditions or injuries may not immediately appear. If you are unsure whether your claim will meet the required statute of limitations for your situation, your Bakersfield medical malpractice lawyer should be able to help you determine when your statute of limitations started.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Work?
The justice system recognizes that injured people cannot always take legal action immediately following an injury. In some cases, an acquired injury or illness may not manifest any noticeable symptoms for a long time, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact date a medical condition appeared. However, the justice system also recognizes the need for a system that discourages frivolous or outdated claims that use valuable time and resources. Therefore, a claimant who wishes to take legal action against a medical professional must do so within the appropriate statute of limitations for his or her state. In California, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is three years on the date of harm or one year from the date of discovery of harm.
Discovery Rule for Medical Malpractice Claims
The earliest date that a statute of limitations can begin for an injury claim is the date that harm occurred. This applies when the injury or illness is immediately noticeable, or the cause of the injury is immediately apparent. Several things may “toll” or delay the statute of limitations. The Discovery rule applies to cases involving symptoms that develop over time, or medical conditions that do not immediately display the full scope of harm.
Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations may begin on the “date of discovery,” or the date the symptoms of harm became visible or noticeable. The court may also apply this statute to the date that a plaintiff should have noticed or discovered the harm with reasonable diligence. For example, if a person experienced stomach pain after a surgical procedure but did not notify anyone or see a doctor for several weeks, the statute would likely begin on the date his or her symptoms appeared and not the date of the diagnosis or the date of the surgery.
It’s important to remember that many states place a statute of repose on medical malpractice claims. These statutes function as hard time limits for taking legal action. For example, a state may have a 10-year statute of repose for medical malpractice claims. This means that a plaintiff must discover the harm from medical negligence and take legal action within 10 years of the date of injury, not the date of discovery. In California, the only exception to the three-year statute is for cases involving foreign objects left in a patient’s body during surgery. These cases must still meet the one-year statute under the discovery rule, but claimants may take legal action many years after the normal three-year statute has passed.
A medical malpractice lawsuit is a very complex legal matter that requires meeting various legal deadlines and filing requirements, so time is a critical factor for anyone who wishes to pursue a medical malpractice claim. A Bakersfield personal injury attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases can help you determine whether your claim meets the applicable statute of limitations for your situation.