If you have suffered one or more injuries due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, California law gives you the right to seek damages for medical malpractice. Although the state has enacted some of the most victim-friendly statutes in the United States, you still have to follow the limits place by California law on several steps of the claims process.
The most frequently cited limit concerns the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits should be aware of other limits established by the California legal system.
The Deadline for Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim in California
Every state has imposed some type of deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. The deadline, which is referred to in legal circles as the statute of limitations, sets the last possible date for a plaintiff to submit the paperwork required to initiate a claim. If you fail to meet the deadline imposed by the State of California for filing a civil lawsuit, the court clerk has the power to deny the lawsuit, regardless of how persuasive the evidence is that you submit along with your paperwork.
California medical malpractice law grants plaintiffs one year to file a civil lawsuit. The one-year clock starts to tick on the date the plaintiff discovered the injury or injuries that resulted from alleged evidence or the date when the plaintiff should have discovered the development of one or more injuries. Although California law makes the statute of limitations for filing a medical negligence lawsuit clear, your attorney can argue for an extension under one of the “exception” rules written into another medical malpractice statute.
Exceptions to the Discovery Rule
If you fail to meet the deadline for filing a medical malpractice claim in California, your lawyer can argue for an extension by referring to one of the few exceptions to the statute of limitations rule. One of the most common exceptions to the deadline rule concerns an object left inside a plaintiff’s body during a surgical procedure. On most occasions, an object the size of a sponge or gauze is easy to detect after a surgical procedure. Sometimes, smaller objects like a piece of a medical device go undetected for weeks, if not months on end.
Exceptions to the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in California must demonstrate the plaintiff had no idea medical malpractice had taken place until after the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit.
Another Exception Concerns Children
The statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in California typically differs for children. If a child is younger than six years of age, parents or guardians have three years after an incident of medical malpractice for filing a civil lawsuit. Parents and guardians of children older than six years have until a child’s eighth birthday to submit a claim. All other cases give parents and guardians of children three years after an alleged medical malpractice incident took place to file a lawsuit.
The difference between the statute of limitations for adults and children is adults must file a claim after discovering an act of medical negligence, while the parents or guardians of children must file a claim within a certain period after the date of an alleged act of medical malpractice.
Financial Limits on Damages
California medical malpractice law places a limit on much money a plaintiff can receive for non-economic damages. Some types of non-economic damages include discomfort and psychological impact, as well as pain and suffering.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to prove, as is especially the case with pain and suffering. Your medical malpractice lawyer has to rely mostly on witness accounts of your pain and suffering. On the other hand, proving economic damages like lost wages and medical expenses relies on physical evidence, such as diagnostic images and medical records.
The cap in California for non-economic damages in a medical negligence case is $250,000. Plaintiffs receive a lump sum for monetary damages for awards below $50,000. Otherwise, plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases can request periodic payments for some or all of the monetary damages awarded in a medical negligence case.
The Bottom Line
Plaintiffs that file medical malpractice claims in California must be aware of the limits placed on both time and damages. Working with an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you file your civil lawsuit promptly, as well as maximize the money awarded for non-economic damages.