Before you start a malpractice case, you have to know if the time limit has run out. Our laws recognize that it is not fair to make people live in fear that someone may sue them for a long ago deed or mistake. Every state has what are known as Sta
tutes of Limitation, time limits for filing different types of civil actions.
All states have different Statutes of Limitation for medical malpractice and dental malpractice lawsuits. After a certain number of months or years, you can no longer sue the doctor or the hospital, no matter how bad the malpractice.
Should You File Early and Not Wait for the Deadline?
Yes. State deadlines are last-chance opportunities. There are many reasons why you should consult a lawyer and file your lawsuit, as soon as you are reasonably sure that you have been the victim of medical malpractice or dental malpractice. Even if you are not sure about the malpractice, and are within the time limit for your state, it is safer to talk to a lawyer and let her or him decide whether delay is advisable. The following are a few reasons for moving promptly on your case:
1. It protects you against having your case dismissed, because you missed the deadline. In some states, the deadline can be extended by a judge on a showing of good reason for the delay. In most states, if you go even one day over the deadline, you are out of luck.
2. It allows your lawyer time to discover what happened. In a Utah case, a woman suffered a surgical injury to the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg. She considered her options for a long time. Finally, just before the time limit ran out, she consulted a lawyer, who filed a lawsuit against the surgeon. When the lawyer got the hospital records a month later, he learned that a hospital employee was to blame, and there was no case against the surgeon. It was too late to sue the hospital, and the plaintiff received nothing.
3. In some states, until you file your lawsuit, you cannot obtain all the facts and medical records, such as x-rays and doctor’s office records, to learn what really happened. It takes time to obtain documents and evidence.
4. In most instances, insurance companies are only concerned with cases that have been filed. They recognize these cases as serious claims and are more apt to settle. An unfiled lawsuit is an empty threat that goes into the inactive file and is ignored.
5. It allows you plenty of time to find the medical expert witness or dental expert witness you need. A New York lawyer had a strong case involving medical malpractice by a neurologist. In New York, a case can take a long time to come to trial, so the lawyer filed it away. Early in August, the court notified the lawyer that his case would come to trial just before Labor Day. When he started checking his files, preparing for the trial, he realized that he had never hired a medical expert witness. In the two or three weeks he had left, he started frantically looking for a qualified expert, who could testify on his client’s behalf. He was finally able to contact three neurologists, who agreed to help him, but none of them were available over the Labor Day holiday, When he went to court without a medical expert witness, the judge dismissed his case With Prejudice, meaning that it could not ever be brought again. The lawyer was sued by his client for legal malpractice.
6. Memories fade, witnesses move, and essential records may be lost or destroyed. The records and evidence necessary to your case should be gathered
as early as possible. A witness statement, made soon after the injury, is more valuable than one made years later.
7. Scars fade, pain subsides, and people adjust to their disabilities. With the passage of time, most injuries, even death, have less impact on a jury. Jurors are more impressed by imagining the suffering and problems facing an injured person, than by hearing the defense lawyers tell them that you have adjusted to your disability, are holding a job, driving a car, and have a happy family life.
8. Many medical malpractice cases and dental malpractice cases are settled instead of going to trial, and settlement negotiations can take a long time. If you wait to file your lawsuit until after the settlement negotiations, your payment could be delayed. But, if your lawsuit is filed before your lawyer begins negotiating with defense lawyers, it is in the pipeline, and he can engage in settlement negotiations, without delaying the trial if negotiations break down.