Understanding Time Limits for Medical Malpractice Cases

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Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Personal Injury Lawsuits

When a person suffers injuries because of a healthcare provider’s error or negligence, the injured patient may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, in each medical malpractice claim, it is extremely important for the patient to understand that the statute of limitations limits the amount of time they have to file a malpractice lawsuit. Each state has its own medical negligence laws that defines the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice claim and for defining “what is malpractice.”

How does a medical malpractice statute of limitations work? The statute of limitations is a time window for filing a lawsuit. Typically in personal injury cases—including most medical negligence claims—the clock on the statute of limitations starts “ticking” on the date that the patient suffers the injury. If the patient fails to file a medical malpractice lawsuit by the time the clock runs out, then that patient’s claim will likely be time-barred.

Each state has its own medical negligence laws and state-specific statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice claim. Under New York law, for example, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is two and a half years. Under New Jersey law, the statute of limitations is two years.

For example, if a state’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is two years, for most patients the clock will begin “ticking” on the date of the injury, which may be the date the patient had surgery or received an incorrect diagnosis. Then, in most situations, the patient will have two years from that date to file a lawsuit. However, medical malpractice claims can be particularly complicated when it comes to the statute of limitations since sometimes patients do not realize they have been injured until months or even years after the initial injury. Accordingly, many states have special provisions when it comes to the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations for Certain Medical Malpractice Cases

In many states, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is lengthened in cases where the plaintiff was a minor, or in situations in which the plaintiff would not have reasonably known about the injury until  some time had passed after the initial medical error occurred.

Under New Jersey law, a patient has two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit from the date that he or she discovered—or reasonably should have discovered—that they suffered an injury due to medical malpractice. For instance, if a patient underwent a surgical procedure and the surgeon accidentally left a sponge inside the patient’s body, it may take months or even years for the patient to show signs of a foreign object being left inside his or her body. In such a case, the statute of limitations would start tolling when the patient discovered that there was a foreign object left in his or her body during surgery.   Other examples might include delayed or missed diagnoses that led a condition to worsen significantly over time without the patient realizing that they received a wrong diagnosis until a later date.

If you need help determining whether you have a medical malpractice case, and if you will be able to file your claim within your state’s statute of limitations for filing a claim, you should get in touch with a medical malpractice attorney about your case.

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