How Long Do You Have to Sue a Doctor?

Taking any type of legal action almost always requires meeting the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the time limit in which a claimant must take legal action after a specific event. For example, most states uphold a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims, so a potential plaintiff has two years to file a personal injury lawsuit, starting on the date the personal injury occurred.

Every state assigns different statutes of limitations to different types of cases, including medical malpractice claims. Generally, the statute of limitations is between two and four years following an incident of malpractice. However, some factors may toll, or delay, the statute of limitations in some claims.

Determining the Statute of Limitations for Your Medical Malpractice Claim

If a doctor or other healthcare professional harmed you or deviated from the standard of care for your condition and caused damages, then you must determine the start date of your statute of limitations. In most cases, the statute begins on the date the harm occurred. With acute examples of medical malpractice, this can be easy to determine. For example, if a doctor read an x-ray backward and amputated the wrong limb, then the date of this procedure would be the start date for the statute of limitations. In other cases, determining the start date for the statute of limitations is trickier.

The date of discovery may apply in cases in which the harm from medical malpractice does not immediately manifest noticeable symptoms. For example, a patient undergoes a surgical procedure and the doctor accidentally leaves a piece of surgical equipment inside the patient. The patient does not experience any negative symptoms for months until a piece of the instrument dislodges or moves and starts causing extreme pain. The patient visits the emergency room where doctors identify the issue. In this example, the statute of limitations would begin on the date the patient noticed the symptoms from the malpractice, or the date the patient discovered the harm.

It is important to note that the statute of limitations would begin on the date the patient discovered the harm caused by malpractice, not the date the patient received a diagnosis confirming the malpractice. If a patient starts experiencing symptoms resulting from prior malpractice but bears them for several weeks or months before seeking additional treatment, then the statute begins on the date the patient started experiencing symptoms, not on the date he or she received a confirming diagnosis.

If a patient was a minor when medical malpractice caused harm, then the statute of limitations may toll until he or she reaches the age of majority (18 years old) and start counting from that date. If a doctor continues to treat a patient after causing an injury, then the continuous treatment statute may apply and extend the statute of limitations, effectively starting the statute on the date the doctor stopped treating the patient for the harm the doctor caused.

Work Quickly for the Best Chance of Recovery

Meeting the statute of limitations is crucial for any medical malpractice claim. As soon as you suspect you have suffered harm from medical malpractice, visit a doctor immediately to have your suspicions confirmed. Most medical malpractice claims will need to pass through a review process from the medical board with jurisdiction over the medical professional in question. If the board decides a claim has merit, the board will approve the claim and the claimant can proceed with his or her lawsuit.

If you are unsure how the statute of limitations will apply in your case, find a qualified NYC medical malpractice attorney and schedule a consultation. A good lawyer will be able to identify the factors in your situation that may toll the statute of limitations and provide you with an accurate idea of what to expect from the legal process.