If you are considering taking legal action against a negligent doctor, nurse, surgeon, or other healthcare professional, it is critically important that you are aware of the time limit to file a malpractice lawsuit. Ventura medical malpractice attorneys answer the question, “How long do you have to sue for medical malpractice in California?”
Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in California
The statute of limitations is not unique to California, nor to medical malpractice lawsuits. Statutes of limitations exist in every state and apply to all types of legal matters. With some exceptions, even criminal cases are subject to statutes of limitations.
Regardless of what type of case is involved or where it is tried, the statute of limitations has the same general function: setting a time limit. In a criminal matter, the statute of limitations is how long the prosecutor has to file charges. In a personal injury matter, such as a medical malpractice case or wrongful death lawsuit, the statute of limitations is how long the victim has to bring a claim.
The importance of the statute of limitations cannot be overemphasized. If the plaintiff does not file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out of time (“expires”), his or her claim will be barred, meaning the injury victim will permanently lose the ability to sue. Without the ability to sue, the victim will have no way to get compensated or even hold the negligent party accountable. In short, the victim will lose their legal recourse, which can have devastating financial and emotional repercussions.
The question is, how much time does the statute of limitations grant? The answer depends on three factors:
- Where the lawsuit is being filed. Every state has its own set of statutes of limitations. The statute of limitations for personal injury is different in California than it is in Florida, for example.
- What type of matter the lawsuit involves. For example, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is different than the statute of limitations for fraud, property damage, or breach of contract.
- The discovery rule. Normally, the statute of limitations begins counting down from the date of injury, because most injuries are immediately (or almost immediately) apparent. For example, if you fractured your ankle in a slip and fall accident on January 1, you would have two years from January 1 to file a lawsuit against the property owner.However, there are some situations where the victim does not even realize they have been harmed until long after the injury occurs. For example, this might be true of a case where a doctor has failed to diagnose a tumor. Despite sustaining a very serious injury, or developing a life-threatening health problem, it could take months or even years for the victim to discover they have been hurt. The discovery rule, which extends the statute of limitations, may apply in these types of situations.
Generally speaking, the California statute of limitations on medical malpractice is three years from the date of injury. However, the discovery rule may extend the medical negligence time limit by up to one year.
These provisions are part of state law under the California Code of Civil Procedure. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 340.5 states the following:
“In an action for injury or death against a health care provider based upon such person’s alleged professional negligence, the time for the commencement of action shall be three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.”
The statute goes on to make another important point: notwithstanding the discovery rule, under no circumstances shall the statute of limitations exceed three years, unless any of the following factors are involved:
- There is proof of fraud.
- Information has been deliberately concealed from the malpractice victim.
- A doctor or surgeon accidentally left an object inside the patient’s body that was not supposed to be there – for example, a sponge or piece of gauze.
Contact Our Ventura Medical Malpractice Lawyers for Help Filing a Lawsuit
If your doctor failed to diagnose cancer, made a mistake while performing surgery, or made an error that injured your baby, you should speak with a surgical error attorney about filing a lawsuit against your doctor, hospital, or other parties that may have been negligent. You could be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, diminished earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages.
The California birth injury lawyers of Bamieh & De Smeth represent victims of birth injuries, dental malpractice, and medical negligence in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. To discuss your malpractice claim in a free and confidential legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 643-5555.