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How Long Do You Have to File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Updated on November 29, 2016

Patients put their faith in doctors every day to provide the care they need. In the majority of cases, those medical professionals prove themselves worthy of the trust of their patients. But what happens in the tragic cases when doctors fail to meet the standard of care expected of them, and their patients are injured as a result? How long do patients have to file a medical malpractice claim against a negligent health care provider?


As with many legal issues, there is not a simple answer to that question. The answer can vary depending not only on where you live, but on the circumstances of your particular case. Knowing the factors that can affect the amount of time you have between when you or a loved one were injured by treatment that did not meet the accepted standard of care and when you need to decide whether to pursue legal remedies is critical for successfully suing your doctor.

The statute of limitations, which is simply another term for a deadline, differs for medical malpractice lawsuits in every state. These limits can be as short as six months from the date of the injury. It is essential to file your claim before the time limit runs out, because the case can be thrown out of court if you don’t meet the required deadline, even if you have evidence to prove that your doctor failed to provide the proper care. If you’ve experienced an adverse outcome due to negligent medical treatment and you’re not sure if you intend to pursue a lawsuit, you should still consult a lawyer experienced in medical malpractice law right away. Such an expert will be able to advise you on the statute of limitations that applies in your state.

Ordinarily, the statute of limitations begins to run from the date that the injury occurred. But what happens if it’s not immediately evident that you were harmed by the treatment you received? The classic example of this scenario is a surgeon leaving an object in a patient’s body during surgery that isn’t discovered until months or even years later. If you didn’t know, and couldn’t be reasonably expected to know, that you had been injured by a medical mistake, then you still have an opportunity to file suit even if the original statute of limitations has passed. Again, an attorney specializing in medical malpractice law will be able to advise you on how this exception would apply in your case and how long that gives you to move forward with a claim, as the time limits can vary.

Other exceptions can also apply. For example, birth injury cases or cases involving injury to a minor child often have different statutes of limitations than medical malpractice claims involving adult patients. This, too, can differ depending on your state and the details of your situation. Also, if you are dealing with a governmental entity, you may have to file a governmental tort claim within a narrow period of time before you can actually file a lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, don’t wait to seek legal advice. Contact legal experts that have the experience and determination you need to protect your rights in court and obtain the maximum compensation for your injury.


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