Connecticut Medical Malpractice Laws

If you are thinking of pursuing a claim of medical malpractice, it is likely that you have suffered a significant injury at the hands of your health care provider. This type of litigation can be incredibly nuanced, the complexities of which require skilled and experienced legal counsel. If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice, you have a specified time period in which you are able to bring a claim. If you fail to file a claim within that timeframe, it is quite possible that you will not be able to do so at any point and you will not be permitted to recover for your pain and suffering. This page is intended to provide a brief overview of what you may expect if you are pursuing a medical malpractice claim in Connecticut; however, the best course of action to take if you are considering doing so is to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney licensed in Connecticut. An experienced attorney will be able to guide you through the specifics of the laws that are more finely tuned with the details of your medical malpractice claim and explore whether your claim has the requisite merit to be filed in court.

Suing for Medical Malpractice in Connecticut

In Connecticut, a medical malpractice case may be brought by an injured patient against any licensed health care provider, including a medical doctor, nurse, physical therapist, and mental health care professional. The law in Connecticut places a set time period for which a medical malpractice claim may be filed. If named as a defendant in a medical malpractice case, the law in Connecticut allows the defense of modified comparative negligence to be used which allows a damage award to be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned by a court.

When it comes to medical malpractice claims, most cases settle out of court prior to the case advancing to the trial stage of litigation. Connecticut is one of a few states that does not place a limit on damages that may be awarded to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case.

How long do I have to file a medical malpractice case in Connecticut?

The first step in bringing a claim of medical malpractice against a healthcare provider is making certain that you are permitted to do so. The law in Connecticut mandates that an action for personal injury must be filed within two years from the date the cause of action accrues. [1] This time limitation is known as the “statute of limitations” which refers to the period from the time an injury occurs or is discovered to the final date on which a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed. If you decide to bring an action after the statute of limitations have passed, a court can dismiss your case and you will be left with no other legal option to pursue justice. The reason behind placing a time limitation on when you may file a medical malpractice claim is based on the notion that a court is interested in credible evidence in order to establish a cause of action. As time passes, it is possible that the crucial evidence that would initially aid your case would become less compelling, making your case all the more difficult to prove.

It is important to note that Connecticut law states that the statute of limitations clock does not begin to run until your injury has been, or should have been, discovered. This rule is known as the “discovery rule.” Once you discover, or should have discovered, your injury, the two year window to file your lawsuit begins. However, you may not bring an action for medical malpractice more than three years from the time date that the alleged malpractice took place, regardless of when you actually discovered your injury. Unlike most states, there is not a separate statute of limitation provision if the injured party is a minor child.

In Connecticut Medical Malpractice Cases, Who is Responsible?

In Connecticut, you may bring a medical malpractice lawsuit for an injury you suffered against a licensed healthcare provider based upon their negligence, misconduct, errors or omissions. [2]

Those that can be held responsible due to being included in the definition of a “health care provider” include any person, corporation, facility or institution licensed by the state to provide health care or professional services, or an officer, employee or agent thereof acting in the course and scope of his employment. [3]

When bringing a medical malpractice claim against a healthcare provider, the burden of proof rests with you and you must prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the alleged actions of the health care provider represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider. The prevailing professional standard of care for a health care provider is the that level of care, skill and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers. [4]

What if I am partially to blame? Can I Still Recover Money for Connecticut Medical Malpractice?

Connecticut, along with 32 other states recognizes the doctrine of modified comparative fault. The doctrine allows a court to assign a percentage of blame to each party involved in the lawsuit and any damage award is reduced in proportion to your apportioned fault. Of the 33 states that follow a modified version of comparative fault, Connecticut is one of 22 states (Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming) that follow a 51% rule where you are only able to recover damages for an injury if a court determines that your apportionment of fault for your own injury is 50% or less. [5] In other words, if you wish to recover a monetary award for your injury, you must not have contributed more to the injury that the health care provider that you are suing.

For example, imagine you become sick after ingesting medication that was prescribed to you by your doctor. A court finds that your sickness was caused by a combination of a disclosed allergy and food that was against the doctor's instructions that you consumed while on the medication. The court ultimately finds that the doctor never should have prescribed that specific type of medication due to your allergy and assigns the defendant 50% of the blame while assigning 50% of the blame to you for not following the doctor's instructions when you consumed food that was not permitted while on the medication. Since you were assigned 50% of the blame, you would be able to recover a portion of damages because you were not found to have been 51% or more at fault for your injury. If the court awarded $100,000 in damages, you would be able to recover $50,000 after the apportioned 50% of fault is applied.

Some states do not adhere to a modified form of comparative fault and instead follow a doctrine of pure comparative fault where a plaintiff is able to recover for damages even if they are found to have been 99% at fault for their injury. An argument against the adoption of pure comparative fault is that it is contrary to the nature and purpose of the legal system to allow a plaintiff who has substantially contributed to their own injury to recover damages for any portion of their loss. This is a reason why Connecticut decided to adopt a modified system.

Are there medical malpractice recovery caps in Connecticut?

If you are ultimately successful in your medical malpractice claim, you will be awarded damages in accordance with the doctrine of comparative fault. The term “damages” is synonymous with a monetary award which is used to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries they sustained as a result of the defendant's negligence. There are two types of damage awards you may receive in Connecticut:

Compensatory Damages are meant to place you in the position you would have been in had your injury never occurred as they are meant to compensate you for your injury. Compensatory damages are usually split into two categories – economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic damages reimburse you for out-of-pocket items that can easily be accounted for like:

  • Medical bills
  • Prescription fees
  • Nursing costs
  • Physical therapy costs
  • Wages lost from an inability to work

Non-economic damages compensate you for occurrences that are hard to properly value. For example:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Future medical costs
  • Loss of future wages

Punitive Damages are different from compensatory damages in that they are intended to punish the defendant rather than provide compensation to you. In Connecticut, you must meet the burden of persuasion before a court may consider a punitive damage award. The law in Connecticut requires that you prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the named defendants acted with a reckless indifference to your rights or acted intentionally with a wanton violation of your rights.

Connecticut does not have a cap on the amount of damages that you are able to recover during a medical malpractice case. However, punitive damages are limited to the actual cost of litigation.

Generally, an attorney's fees are capped at 33 1/3% for the first $300,000, 25% for the next $300,000, 20% for the following $300,000, 15% for the next $300,000, and 10% for anything that is greater than a $1.2 million. [6]

Expert witness reporting and testimony

The testimony given by an expert witness is not only invaluable to you, but required by law, if you are bringing a claim of medical malpractice. It is the expert that will be able to establish that the defendant either lacked or failed to exercise the requisite degree of knowledge or skill held by healthcare providers in their field and that as a proximate result of the lack of knowledge or skill or the failure to exercise this degree of care, you suffered injuries that would not otherwise have been incurred.

Over time, the state of Connecticut has seen numerous medical malpractice claims be filed against healthcare professionals despite the fact that the claims were frivolous and lacked merit. Those cases tied up the court system and caused many skilled physicians to lose their practices due to insurance increases. To help remedy this problem, Connecticut has implemented a procedure requiring you to file a document called a “Good Faith Certificate” which accompanies your initial Complaint when filing your medical malpractice lawsuit with the court. [7]

The Good Faith Certificate must state that a reasonable inquiry gave rise to a good faith belief that grounds exist for an action to be brought against all named defendants. [8]

To show that good faith exists, you must obtain a written and signed opinion of a similar health care provider which states that there appears to be evidence of medical negligence and includes a detailed basis for the formation of the opinion. [9] To qualify as a similar health care provider, the person providing the opinion must be licensed by the appropriate regulatory agency of Connecticut or of another state that has the same or greater qualifications; and is trained and experienced in the same discipline or school of practice and the training and experience is the result of the active involvement in the practice or teaching of medicine within the five-year period before the incident that gave rise to your injury. [10]

If you do not file a Good Faith Certificate, it is likely that your case will be dismissed.

Are some parties immune from medical negligence cases?

The law provides immunity from litigation to the State of Connecticut unless the State itself authorizes or consents to the lawsuit. [11] Therefore, if you attempt to bring a medical malpractice claim against a hospital or clinic that is operated by the State of Connecticut, the State will have to consent before your claim can proceed to trial. Additionally, physicians and surgeons employed by the State of Connecticut are immune from personal liability unless their actions are deemed to have been wanton, reckless or malicious. [12]

Settling medical malpractice cases in Connecticut

Most medical malpractice cases settle out of court. For this reason, many states have enacted laws that require some type of mandatory pretrial mediation or screening panel. However, the law in Connecticut does not require mandatory arbitration, mediation, or the submission of your medical malpractice case to a screening panel as a form of alternative dispute resolution prior to the claim reaching the trial stage of litigation.

If both parties are interested in reaching a settlement in lieu of going to court, a settlement, or pre-trial conference may be sought. A settlement conference is a meeting that takes place prior to a case going to trial where both parties attempt to settle the dispute and avoid trial litigation altogether.

During a settlement conference, both sides will have the opportunity to speak in front of a court-appointed attorney, and will usually cover topics like; the issues in the lawsuit; the possible consequences if your case proceeds to trial; relevant financial information; your needs and what you will be seeking in terms of damage should the case go forward to trial.

When compared with going to trial, settlement conferences can be appealing due to their low cost and expedited resolution.

Litigating medical negligence cases in Connecticut

A claim for medical malpractice in Connecticut is initiated by preparing a Complaint that must be served on the named defendants in your case. The defendant is then required to file a document that is called the Answer which provides responses to the allegations you made in the Complaint and will also list the affirmative defenses that will be used.

Initiating the Case

If the parties to a medical malpractice lawsuit are unable to reach a settlement, the claim will proceed to civil court. In Connecticut, a civil action begins by filing a Complaint with the clerk of the court. A Complaint should include:

  • The proper name of every plaintiff and of every defendant.
  • A statement of facts constituting the cause of action.
  • A demand for relief.
    • That the amount, legal interest or property in demand is $15,000 or more, exclusive of interest and costs; or
    • That the amount, legal interest or property in demand is $2,500 or more but is less than $15,000, exclusive of interest and costs; or
    • That the amount, legal interest or property in demand is less $2,500, exclusive of interest and costs. [13]

A civil Summons is also required and notifies the court and the defendant that you are filing a lawsuit. The Summons must be signed by the clerk of the court and must then, along with the Complaint, be delivered to all named defendants in the lawsuit. In addition to serving the Complaint and Summons, in order to begin your case, you must choose a return date. A return date is the date that begins the clock on your case. The law in Connecticut generally requires the return date to be on a Tuesday and cannot be more than two months from the date of service. [14] All named defendants are then required to provide a response to the complaint in the form of an Answer within 30 days of the aforementioned return date. [15]

The law in Connecticut also requires that your case obtain good faith. To prove good faith, you must obtain a written and signed opinion of a similar health care provider as the health care provider that caused your injury which states that there appears to be evidence of medical negligence and includes a detailed basis for the formation of the opinion. [16]

To qualify as a similar health care provider, the person providing the opinion must be licensed by the appropriate regulatory agency of Connecticut or of another state that has the same or greater qualifications; and is trained and experienced in the same discipline or school of practice and the training and experience is the result of the active involvement in the practice or teaching of medicine within the five-year period before the incident that gave rise to your injury. [17]

Preparing for Litigation

After the Complaint, Good Faith Certificate, Summons and Answer have been filed in the appropriate court, the parties may begin the discovery process. Discovery is a procedure designed to allow disclosure between both sides of a lawsuit which allows both sides to know what to expect at trial.

In a medical malpractice case, medical records and doctor's notes are usually items that will be requested for disclosure.

Each side may obtain discovery by:

  • Deposition
  • Written interrogatories
  • Production of documents
  • Physical or mental examinations
  • Requests for admission [18]

A deposition is a fact finding tool where the opposing side is permitted to ask questions of the witness being deposed who is under oath. A deposition does not usually take place in a courtroom. Instead, the questions are asked in an attorney's office where attorneys are present in order to help advise their client on how to answer certain questions as well as to make objections if necessary. Through the question and answer session, opposing counsel will try to find out what facts the opposing party believes to be true and what facts they may be exaggerating. A court reporter is usually present during a deposition.

Written interrogatories are written questions sent to the opposing side that request answers which will be used to establish the facts that will be presented once the case goes to trial.

Production of documents is a request made to the opposing side whereby tangible documents are sought. In a medical malpractice case, an example of a request for production of documents would be a request to view the medical records of the claimant.

Request for admission is a set of statements drafted by one side and sent to the other where the receiver must answer in the affirmative or the negative. In a medical malpractice case, an example of request for admission would be a statement like, “the defense has no evidence to support a basis that the claimant caused their own injuries.” If the defense answers in the negative, the claimant would know that the defense is intending to proffer some type of evidence in an attempt to prove that they were at least partially to blame for their own injury.

In a medical malpractice case, it is possible that you will need to be medically evaluated in order to corroborate that the injury being complained of does in fact exist. [19] You must comply with any request unless you file a written objection stating the reason or reasons for your objection.

Pretrial Litigation

Litigation can be expensive and there is no guarantee that either side will come out unscathed. For these reasons, it is not uncommon for a case to settle prior to reaching the trial stage of litigation.

The law in Connecticut allows you to file an “offer of compromise” compromise 365 days after service of process upon the defendant but no later than 30 days before trial. [20] After filing the offer of compromise, the defendant has 30 days to accept the offer at which time you would withdraw the action.

If the offer is rejected by the defendant, and at trial you receive a judgment award that is greater than the offer you filed, then the court will award interest at 8% percent annually from the date of the complaint if the offer was filed not later than 18 months from the filing of the complaint. [21]

Trial

During a trial all admissible evidence will be presented to the 'trier of fact' who is a person or group of people who hear testimony and review evidence in order to issue a ruling in favor of one party or another. There are two potential triers of fact in a personal injury case in the state of Connecticut: a judge or a jury. In Connecticut a civil trial may have no less than six jurors [22]

To choose a jury, a procedure known as “voir dire” is conducted whereby attorneys ask potential jurors questions in order to determine what biases the panel members may have in favor or against the case being brought before the court. Once this process is completed, both sides will decide what parties they would like to remove from juror consideration. The law in Connecticut allows each side to have three peremptory challenges where jurors may be eliminated from consideration. [23] Once each side finishes announcing the parties they wish to have removed, the jury is impaneled.

In Connecticut, a person is considered to be qualified to be a juror if they are:

  • a citizen of the United States;
  • a resident of Connecticut
  • at least 18 years of age; and
  • of sound mind [24]

After the jury selection is completed, opening statements will begin. An opening statement is an outline of what each side thinks the evidence will be and is offered to help jurors understand and follow the evidence during the trial.

From there, the plaintiff will begin to argue their case. The plaintiff will call witnesses at this time and each witnesses will be questioned by the plaintiff's attorney and then likely cross-examined by the

opposing side's attorney. After all the plaintiff's witnesses have been called and evidence has been presented, the plaintiff will rest their case.

Once the plaintiff finishes the presentation of their case, the defense will begin to present their evidence. The defense will present the physician's side of the case and attempt to show why negligence was not involved in creating the patient's injury.

Once both sides have argued their cases, closing arguments will take place. During closing arguments, each side's attorney will explain to the jury what they believe the evidence proves. In the final argument, each side will summarize the facts that were presented during the trial and attempt to show how they support their client's case. The closing arguments allow the jury to better understand the case.

Finally, jury instructions are then be given by the judge to the jury and the jury is then free to deliberate and come back with a finding.

Appeal

Many times the losing side in a medical malpractice case will opt to appeal a decision from the lower court. An appeal is a legal proceeding which allows a higher court to review the decision rendered by a lower court. Most appeals taking place in Connecticut must be filed within 20 days from notice of the judgment or decision. [25]

How to find the best Connecticut Medical Malpractice Lawyer for your case

Achieving the best possible outcome in your medical malpractice case is often contingent upon securing the best possible counsel to represent you in your action. Finding skilled legal representation can take your mind off of the legalese involved in a lawsuit so that you can focus on healing your injury.

One of the main motivating factors in bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a health care provider that caused your injury is to receive proper compensation for the pain, suffering and losses you have likely endured. Without a damage award, it is likely that you would be forced to go out-of-pocket in order to help heal your injury. Therefore, it is easy to see why hiring proper legal counsel is of the utmost importance.

When looking to hire legal representation, it is important to remember that the attorney will be working for you – not the other way around. The process of hiring an attorney or law firm should be on your time table, not theirs. Do not let an attorney or firm pressure you into hiring them on the spot. In fact, you should interview more than one law firm to make sure that the counsel you end up with is the right fit. Once you have several candidates lined up, weigh the pros and cons of each and decide which you feel most comfortable with.

When looking for legal representation, you will want to search for an attorney or firm that has a wealth of knowledge and experience in cases that are similar to your own. Do not be afraid to ask an attorney or law firm their level of experience. It may also be wise to ask if they have ever litigated a case similar to yours and whether or not they were successful. If they have had experience with cases with facts similar to yours, they may be able to give insight into how long the case may last and what your expected damages may be. They can also inform you of the estimated cost of litigation. Do not be afraid to ask about their fee structure and if they prefer to litigate on an hourly or contingency rate.

You may want to get a feel for if you actually like the attorney or law firm that you are interviewing. While you do not have to be best friends with your legal counsel – in fact, it is best not to be – you need to decide if the person or people representing you are people you want to be in constant contact with day in and day out. Communication between attorneys and clients is incredibly important. You should also ask your potential attorney or firm how they communicate with their clients. People communicate in different ways which can lead to frustration if the methods used between the parties do not mesh. Your attorney should adapt their communication methods to fit your needs. If the attorney or law firm is unwilling to communicate with you the way you prefer, move on and find representation that will.

Some notable medical malpractice law decisions from Connecticut

These cases represent awards to plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases in Connecticut. These results are in no way a guarantee that subsequent, similar, cases will see the same results.

Ewing vs. University of Chicago Medical Center

Lisa and Isaiah Ewing, the plaintiffs, brought a lawsuit against the University of Chicago Medical Center after Isaiah was born with a brain injury.

The plaintiffs claim that at least 20 doctor and nurse-related errors took place during the birthing process and that the mistakes led to the injury. Lisa Ewing arrived at the hospital after experiencing less movement by Isaiah. The doctors and nurses failed to carefully monitor Lisa and Isaiah, perform a timely cesarean section, follow a chain of command, obtain accurate cord blood gases, and be aware of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns that indicated distress to the baby, including hypoxia, or a drop in the supply of oxygen.

The plaintiffs attempted to prove that the medical records at the University of Chicago neonatal clinic showed that Isaiah had been suffocated at birth, that he had suffered hypoxia, and a lack of oxygen.

The defendants argued that Isaiah had a phantom infection that infected his brain that they could never have known about.

The jury agreed with the plaintiffs and awarded $53 million in damages. The award includes $28.8 million for future caretaking expenses.

Kantorowski v. St. Vincent's Medical Center

The plaintiff, the estate of Dwayne Kantorowski, filed a lawsuit against a doctor and emergency room physician after Dwayne Kantorowski died from a heart attack.

Swayne Kantorowski visited the emergency room at St. Vincent's Medical Center due to symptoms of a stroke. Upon being admitted to the hospital, doctors performed an electrocardiogram test that indicated that Dwayne Kantorowski had had two heart attacks in the past. Though the emergency room physician recognized the heart problems on the test, he called in a neurologist, based on Kantorowski's symptoms.

The day after being admitted to the hospital, defendant, Dr. Kristine M. Lisi, performed a brief physical exam. Three days later, Dr. Lisi discharged Kantorowski's without addressing the heart problem found on the electrocardiogram test. Three days after being discharged from the hospital Dwayne Kantorowski went into cardiac arrest. Dwayne was resuscitated but he remained comatose and died three weeks later.

At trial, the plaintiff attempted to prove that one of Dwayne Kantorowski's coronary arteries was completely occluded and that the condition could have been treated and that the treatment would have saved his life.

The jury agreed and found Dr. Lisi and the emergency room physician each 50% at fault for the death of Dwayne Kantorowski and awarded $6 million in damages. Of that amount, $6 million was for loss of life and the remaining $304,272 for medical and funeral expenses. However, because the emergency room physician had been released from the suit, only $3 million of the $6 million award was awarded.

Footnotes

[1] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-584

[2] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-184c

[3] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-184b(a)

[4] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-184c

[5] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572(h).

[6] Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 52-251c

[7] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-190a(a)

[8] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-190a)a

[9] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-190a(a)

[10] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-184c(c)

[11] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-141

[12] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-141

[13] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-91

[14] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-48

[15] Practice Book § 10-8

[16] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-190a(a)

[17] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-184c(c)

[18] Practice Book § 13-12

[19] Practice Book § 13-11 (b)

[20] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-192b

[21] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-192a(c)

[22] Conn. Const. art. 1 §19

[23] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-241

[24] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-217

[25] Practice Book § 63-1

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