Medical Malpractice: When May There Be Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
In California and every state throughout the United States, a statute of limitations exists and civil claims must be brought within that statute of limitations or are considered "time-barred,” explains a personal injury attorney. Recently a group of Veterans has been fighting to make a claim for injuries caused by medical negligence that did not come to light until after the statute of limitations had passed.
The statute of limitations serves an important purpose in ensuring swift justice and in protecting people from unfair claims. When too long has passed since an alleged incident, a defendant may be unable to defend himself or herself against claims because evidence may have been lost and witnesses unreachable. Further, people must be able to conduct their lives and business without the threat of lawsuits from events long past.
However, while the statute of limitations helps to protect potential defendants, it must also be fair to potential victims. Victims deserve to be made whole after an accident or a case of medical malpractice. If someone hurts or harms them, they should not have to bear the costs of that harm on their own, nor should the individual who caused the harm avoid legal responsibility for what he or she has done simply because the victim of his or her negligence did not discover that negligence right away.
The statute of limitations, therefore, must be a balancing act between the rights of potential defendants and the rights of potential victims. In some cases, for accidents and injuries that become apparent right away, this balancing act is easy. Medical malpractice often presents significant complications when it comes to the statute of limitations, however, because often the fact of an injury or the extent of an injury does not become apparent for months or even for years after the negligent event occurs.
Because injuries from malpractice often do not become known to the victim right away, many states will start the statute of limitations running when the injured victim knows or reasonably should know of the negligence and resulting harm. For example, in the state of California, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice found in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.5 reads, “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." California also carves out exceptions to the three-year statute of limitations in cases of fraud, intentional concealment or when a foreign body was left in the body during surgery
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