One of the many complicated issues in many medical malpractice lawsuits is the seemingly simple problem of when they can be filed.
Even if you are not an attorney, you may still be familiar with the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law that prevents you from filing a lawsuit against someone if a set period of time has passed. This is to allow both parties a fair opportunity to present evidence relating to a claim while that evidence is relatively ‘fresh’.
Unfortunately, different states have different statutes of limitations; even different kinds of lawsuits have different statutes of limitations. For example, in Maryland, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is three or five years, depending on when the malpractice was discovered. However, if you want to sue someone for assault, the statute of limitations is only one year.
Perhaps most confusing is that federal courts may have different statutes of limitations than state courts, even if the two courts are located right across the street from each other.
These complications recently resulted in the dismissal of a medical malpractice lawsuit in North Carolina.
In this case, a pregnant mother was rushed to the delivery room. The doctor, not aware that the baby was a large one, weighing nearly 12 pounds, put the patient into induced labor. The labor was especially difficult, and the baby got stuck until there was a loud “popping” sound. The infant was immediately rushed to the Neonatal ICU. The mother was told that she sustained an injury during birth, and the baby had a splint on her arm when she finally saw her. The baby was diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, a paralysis of one arm due to nerve damage during birth.
The case was a strong one for medical malpractice: The doctor never checked to see how big the baby was. If he had, he would have found that a cesarean section would have been the best delivery method.
However, the mother did not see an attorney for over a year, and the lawsuit was not filed in state court for another year. It was still within the three year statute of limitations for medical malpractice in North Carolina, but the hospital they were suing received grant funding from the U.S. Public Health Services program: It could only be sued in federal court. They were in the wrong courthouse.
In federal court, medical malpractice claims are filed under another statute, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
The FTCA has a two year statute of limitations.
The hospital claimed that the medical malpractice claim was time-barred by the new statute of limitations. The court agreed. The mother and daughter suffering from Erb’s Palsy appealed, but the appellate court denied their appeal – their claim was blocked by the FTCA’s statute of limitations.
These complications are why you need experienced medical malpractice attorneys, like those at Gilman & Bedigian, to handle your claims. Call our law office today.