Understanding Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Cases

Healthcare providers are in a unique and important position. They are given the great privilege and responsibility of managing the care of patients in some of their weakest moments. Those who are sick and injured rely on hospitals, doctors, and nurses to provide appropriate, honest, and effective care as best they can. While patients and their families understand that medicine has limits, they demand and deserve suitable treatment for their injuries and illnesses. When providers fail to meet the accepted standards of care and their patients suffer, those healthcare professionals can and should be held accountable.

Medical malpractice laws exist to protect patients from negligent and irresponsible healthcare providers. Victims of medical malpractice have the right to file a lawsuit to seek justice for their mistreatment and obtain compensation to provide for future care and maintain their livelihood.

What Constitutes Medical Malpractice in Illinois and Missouri?

In both Illinois and Missouri, medical malpractice occurs when a provider fails to meet a reasonable standard of care. In short, this means that a hospital, doctor, nurse, or other medical professional should offer a patient the same type and level of care that another provider in the same area, armed with the same information would offer. Medical malpractice can take many forms, including:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Fail to diagnose
  • Improper medication (type or dosage)
  • Premature discharge from care
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical error
  • Failure to order proper testing
  • Failure to recognize symptoms

Medical malpractice can only occur if three factors exist: the provider violated the standard of care, an injury or further illness resulted from that negligence, and that injury caused serious damage to the patient. While unfortunate, not all poor medical outcomes equate to medical malpractice. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can help clients interpret the law and understand their rights in their state.

Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

Each state sets its own limits for how long a patient has to file a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice. In Illinois, victims have two years from the date they discovered (or should have discovered) the malpractice. Regardless, a victim has four years from the time the malpractice occurred. If the patient was under the age of 18 at the time, he has eight years or until his 22nd birthday, whichever comes first.

In Missouri, victims have two years from the date of the malpractice to file a claim. As in Illinois, the rules vary slightly for cases involving minors. Missouri law gives victims in those cases until their 20th birthday. Although, a lawsuit may not be filed more than 10 years after the date of the malpractice.

The Discovery Rule and How it Applies to Statutes of Limitations

Situations do occur in which the courts are more flexible when it comes to the statute of limitations. Through what is known as the discovery rule, victims may have more time to file their claim, if they were unaware that the malpractice had taken place until sometime after the fact. One more common instance is when a foreign object is left in the body after a surgery. It may be many months or even years before the object is discovered. In those cases, the clock on the statute of limitations does not start to tick until the object is discovered (or should reasonably have been detected), even if it is many years after the operation.

One key element to note is that the rule does not necessarily start the clock on the statute of limitations on the date the victim discovers the malpractice. Rather, the time would begin when a person should reasonably have known. For example, if the patient left with a foreign object in their body had seen multiple doctors over the course of the time after the surgery with a complaint related to the object, he should have considered that there was a mistake during the original operation that was causing his symptoms.

Recent Illinois Ruling Extended Statute in Wrongful Death Case

Additionally, the Illinois courts recently ruled in favor of the victim in a case involving medical malpractice, wrongful death, and the state statute of limitations. In the First District Appellate case, a victim was suing her doctor and his affiliated health system after a misdiagnosis from 2008. While the case was making its way through the court system, the woman died. Her family added a wrongful death allegation to the claim. The lawyers for the healthcare providers argued that the claim should be banned based on the statute of limitations. Citing past court decisions, the court allowed the wrongful death claim to be added. The victim had initiated an initial claim within the allowed time frame, and the wrongful death claim is an extension of that claim based on changing circumstances, according to the court.

Finally, the court reiterated a 1996 decision, saying that victims have every right to pursue a reasonable case against a defendant, and that a defendant should not be able to slip by on a technicality.

When the statute of limitations is called into question in medical malpractice cases, it can quickly grow complex. A skilled medical malpractice attorney, however, can help victims learn more about their rights and work to achieve a favorable ruling from the court to hear the case. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries at the hands of a healthcare provider, the experienced lawyers at the Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm may be able to help. Chat live with a member of our legal team today to have your questions answered and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.