Thursday, January 24, 2008

Statutes of Limitations

In Utah the legislature has determined that two years is the length of time one has to sue a health care provider for medical malpractice. Whether or not this is fair is a discussion for another day.

While it may seem like two years is not a very long time, indeed this is shorter than the statute of limitations for other types of personal injury, there are some important caveats to this law that may lengthen the time period and need to be understood.

First, the two years does not begin to run until you discover, or should have discovered, the injury. When someone "should have" discovered an injury is obviously open to interpretation and depends on the particular facts of the case.

Second, regardless of when you discover, or should have discovered, the injury, the suit must be brought within four years of when the negligence occurred. That means if you discover the injury three years after it occured, you only have one year left to bring a suit.

Third, there are exceptions to the above rules if the case involves a foreign body that was left in a patient. If you discover that a foreign object was left inside you during surgery, for example, you have one year in which to bring a lawsuit if you have already passed the four year window from when the surgery occurred.

Fourth, there is another exception to the four year rule if the patient was prevented from discovering the negligence because the health care provider fraudulently concealed the misconduct. In that case you also have one year from the time you discover the injury to bring a suit if you are already passed the four year window.

Fifth, the statute of limitations does not begin to run for children until they reach the age of 18. This particular exception is very important to understand. Regardless of when your child was injured, it is still possible to seek a recovery for them if they are under the age of 18. Many lawyers do not understand this exception because the statute on the books actually says otherwise. However, the Utah Supreme Court has stated that children have until they are 18 to bring a lawsuit. For some reason, the Utah Legislature has chosen not to reflect this change in the statute.

Statutes of limitations can be very tricky and need to be looked at in the context of the facts of the case. If you have questions about whether it is too late to bring a lawsuit for medical malpractice it is best to consult with an attorney experienced in this area of the law.


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