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

Feb21
Lawyer giving summon to the young doctor for medical error file case.

The law limits how long a person has to file a lawsuit. It is called the “statute of limitations.” The purpose of the law is to give certainty. A person should not go through life worrying that he or she will face a lawsuit for something that happened decades earlier. At the same time, the law gives injured parties adequate time to assess the possibility of bringing a lawsuit.

At The Law Offices of Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates, our attorneys are also physicians. We have a unique combination of medical and legal knowledge and experience, and we are committed to pursuing justice for medical malpractice victims and their families. For more than 30 years, we have helped people throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. If you believe that you have been harmed by medical malpractice, contact us for a free review of your case. We can help you to understand your rights, your legal options and the statute of limitations which may apply to your case.

Standard Deadline for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Our law firm works with clients throughout the country. However, we will focus here on the statute of limitations in Washington, D.C.

Under D.C. Code § 12-301, you generally have three years to file a lawsuit against a negligent medical professional. The three-year period usually begins to run on the date when the negligent act or omission occurred, and the injury arose.

However, in many medical malpractice cases, the negligence does not occur on a single occasion. Instead, it may consist of a series of negligent acts or omissions that occur over a long period of time. For this reason, the three-year period generally does not start to run until the treatment ends. This is commonly called the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine.

Additionally, a number of different exceptions may apply that extend the time that you have to file a lawsuit. Those exceptions are:

What is The Discovery Rule?

Under this exception to the statute of limitations, the time period will not start to run until you actually know (or should know through reasonable diligence) that you suffered an injury due to the negligence of a health care provider. This rule makes common sense. Due to the nature of medical malpractice, an ordinary person with no medical training or experience may be unaware that a medical mistake caused an injury or illness. So, it could take months or even years of follow-up appointments, consultations with specialists and diagnostic testing before the person realizes what has happened.

Can a Minor File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Children cannot initiate lawsuits on their own. For this reason, the law gives child injury victims until they reach age 18 before the clock starts ticking. In most cases, the three-year statute of limitations will not expire until the person reaches his or her 21st birthday.

If you are a parent of a child who suffered injuries due to medical malpractice, you may be eligible to bring your own claim. For instance, as a parent, you may be legally responsible for paying the medical bills, expenses and other related costs for a child with special needs, so you may have a claim for your financial losses. The running of the statute of limitations for your claim would not wait until your child reaches age 18. Instead, you would need to bring this claim within three years from the date of the injury (or date of discovery).

Can a Disabled Adult or in Prison File a Claim?

In addition to a person being under age 18 when an injury occurs, D.C. Code § 12-302 recognizes two other “disabilities” which can delay the running of the statute of limitations. If a person has been declared mentally incompetent or incarcerated, then the three-year period would not start to run until the person is declared competent or released from incarceration.

What if I Find My Doctor Committed Fraud?

If your physician deliberately hid or concealed evidence of malpractice, a court may excuse a late filing of a lawsuit. Given that most evidence of malpractice can be identified in medical records, it can be difficult to establish intentional concealment. However, it may be possible where a doctor or hospital has:

  • Falsified medical records
  • Hid or destroyed evidence
  • Lied about a patient’s medical condition
  • Coerced employees to lie to the patient about a medical condition.

Additionally, under D.C. Code § 12-303, the statute of limitations may be extended if the medical professional left D.C. after committing the malpractice.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

If medical malpractice caused the death of a loved one, a different statute of limitations would apply to the case. Under D.C. Code § 16-2702, the “personal representative” of the deceased person has two years from the date of the death in which to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Notice of Intent to File Suit

Another deadline that you should know about in medical malpractice cases in Washington, D.C., is the notice requirement. Under D.C. Code § 16-2802, you must give reasonable notice to the defendant of your intent to file a lawsuit no less than 90 days prior to filing suit.

Why Should You Consult with a Medical Malpractice Attorney?

You should never hope that an exception applies to your medical malpractice case. If you wait too long to take action, you could end up losing your right to pursue compensation for the physical, emotional and financial harm that you have suffered due to the negligence of a medical professional. This is why you should seek help from an experienced attorney as early as possible if you suspect that you or a loved one has been harmed by medical malpractice.

When you contact The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates, we will need to take several steps before we can file a medical malpractice claim on your behalf. Those steps include:

  • Gathering all relevant treatment records from medical providers. This process can take several weeks or months to complete. This is because many hospitals now use outsourced medical records companies who may be slow to respond to records requests.
  • Carefully reviewing the medical records. Our attorneys are also doctors. They know how to review medical records and spot issues with the treatment that patients have received. Still, if a case involves a tremendous amount of records, it could take significant time to complete this review.
  • Consulting with experts. Most jurisdictions require a physician to sign a certificate of merit before a plaintiff can file a medical malpractice lawsuit. While Washington, D.C., does not require such a certificate, consultation with an expert may still be necessary. For instance, if your injury involves a cancer misdiagnosis, we may need to review your case with an oncologist. If your injury was due to a bloodborne illness, we may need to discuss your symptoms and treatment with a hematologist or infectious disease specialist.
  • Assessing potential damages. Finally, our team will calculate the potential damages in your case. For instance, you may be entitled to damages such as past and future medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering and more.
  • Serving notice. As mentioned earlier, we must give notice to the party or parties whom we believe should be held liable for your medical malpractice-related injuries.

Our law firm will work as efficiently as possible to complete all of these steps. However, in order to ensure that we have adequate time, it will be important to get in touch with us as early as possible.

Get Help from an Experienced D.C. Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

For more than 30 years, attorney Michael M. Wilson has helped victims of medical malpractice all over the country, including Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dr. Wilson and our “of counsel” attorney, Dr. Gerald F. Kaplan, can bring extensive medical and legal knowledge to your case. Our goal will be to secure compensation that fully addresses the harm which you have suffered and allows you and your family to move forward with your lives.

When you work with the Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates, you will pay nothing for your initial consultation, and you will not pay any costs or attorney’s fees unless and until we secure compensation for you. Don’t wait to take action. Call or reach us online today for a free and confidential review of your case.

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