Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

More than 250,000 people die every year in the United States due to medical mistakes, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins, making those mistakes the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. For patients who are victims of a medical mistake, there are strict time limits in each state in which a lawsuit must be filed. These are known as statutes of limitation and statutes of repose. If a lawsuit is not filed within these time limits, the lawsuit can be dismissed, even if it is an otherwise valid claim. The specific statute of limitations, in any case, will depend on the facts and circumstances of that case and are important to understand.

Generally speaking, a lawsuit for injury or death against any physician, dentist, nurse, or hospital arising out of patient care in Illinois must be brought within “2 years after the date the patient knew or should have known of the existence of the injury or death for which damages are sought.” This is the statute of limitations. Illinois law also states that “in no case can a lawsuit be brought more than 4 years after the alleged malpractice.” This is the statute of repose. While the limitations period does not begin to run until the patient discovers the injury, the repose period begins as soon as the medical negligence occurs and does so without regard to the patient’s knowledge of the injury. Further, in cases involving patients under the age of 18 at the time of treatment, any lawsuit must be brought within 8 years of the alleged malpractice and before the patient’s 22nd birthday.

What this means is that an adult has 2 years from when they learn they were injured to file a lawsuit, as long as it is within 4 years of the alleged malpractice. A minor has up to 8 years from the malpractice or until their 22nd birthday, whichever comes first.

Here are a few examples of how the timing of a medical malpractice suit can play out:

  • John, an adult, goes to the ER on May 22, 2018, with complaints of sudden onset of chest pain, back pain, and shortness of breath. The ER fails to timely diagnose John’s aortic aneurysm, and John passes away that day. John’s family would have until May 22, 2020, to file a lawsuit (2 years from when they knew of the injury or death).
  • Martha, an adult, undergoes a mammogram on December 12, 2018, due to a suspicious lump in her breast. Dr. Smith incorrectly reads the study as benign. 2 years later, on December 15, 2020,  Martha is diagnosed with breast cancer and told it was present at the 2018 mammogram. Martha would have until December 12, 2022 (4 years from the original malpractice) to file a lawsuit.
  • Baby Patrick suffers injuries during his birth on April 17, 2016, due to the doctor’s negligence. Since Baby Patrick is a minor, Baby Patrick’s family would have until April 17, 2024 (8 years from the date of malpractice) to file a lawsuit.

There are very few exceptions to the statutes of limitation and repose. If you or a family member were injured due to suspected medical negligence by a physician, dentist, nurse or hospital, it is important to have a qualified law firm look into the matter as soon as possible to ensure that your case is timely filed.

For more information on medical malpractice lawsuits please, click here



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