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MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: SOME IMPORTANT DEADLINES

We do write quite frequently about the statute of limitations for medical malpractice matters in California.  For me, this largely stems from the numerous times I must decline a potential case based on the amount of time that has passed since an injury occurred.  Especially in wrongful death situations, the callers can be particularly hard on themselves for “letting too much time pass” since they lost their loved one before calling for legal help.

My hope is that putting this information out there might help someone avoid that sinking feeling that they let a loved one, or themself, down.

Statute of Limitations

This phrase deals with the deadline to start, or file, a lawsuit.  In California, medical malpractice time periods are generally governed by Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.5.  This section begins:

“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.”

This law creates two separate statutes of limitations, both of which must be satisfied if plaintiff is to timely file medical malpractice action: plaintiff must file within one year after first discovering injury and negligent cause of injury; and plaintiff must file within three years after first experiencing harm from injury. Dolan v. Borelli (1993) 13 Cal. App. 4th 816, 824-825.

Public Entity Claim

This phrase deals with the deadline to file a claim when a “public entity” provider is involved, such as county-affilliated hospitals.  Local to our area would include Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Riverside University Health System Medical Center (formerly known as Riverside County Regional Medical Center).  In California, a patient is first required to submit a “claim” within six months of an injury before a lawsuit can be filed against a public entity.  California Tort Claims Act (Government Code, Section 810-996.6).

Conclusion

It is true that there are exceptions to every rule. Time periods can sometimes be extended for various reasons, including if a minor is involved, if a foreign object was left inside the patient, or a variety of other circumstances.  However, it is usually better to err on the side of caution and use the shortest time period as a guide, especially if you want to consult with an attorney. It seems terrible that when someone is dealing with complications from medical procedures, or making funeral arrangements, that somewhere between that and all the typical daily demands of life, time needs to be taken out to contact an attorney.  Nonetheless, call a lawyer as soon as possible.

Sara Morgan

Ms. Morgan obtained her Juris Doctor from Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California. She contributes to the improvement of both the local and legal communities, having provided pro- and low-bono legal services, and volunteering at legal clinics and other programs serving the community.
View Attorney Sara Morgan’s Attorney Bio Here.

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