A medical malpractice claim is a type of personal injury lawsuit — but medical malpractice claims operate with slightly different rules.
One of the rules that’s different for medical malpractice is how the statute of limitations is figured. The statute of limitations puts a limit on how long you have to act on a claim. Pass it, and you’re forever barred from asking for compensation for your injuries and losses.
How does the statute of limitations work in medical malpractice?
Like most other states, Alabama has separate provisions in the law about the statute of limitations that apply only to medical malpractice.
Typically, you have two years to bring a claim for medical malpractice — starting with the date the malpractice occurred. There are, however, quite a few exceptions to that rule.
If you had no way of knowing about the malpractice and the problem couldn’t reasonably have been discovered during that two-year window, you gain an additional six months to make your claim. Your six months starts either when the malpractice was discovered or you learn something that should have led you to discover the malpractice.
This is a common problem. For example, imagine that you had open heart surgery and the surgeon left a foreign object — like a towel — folded inside your chest cavity. You experienced pain and other problems related to the foreign object — but your concerns were dismissed as part of the healing process or your underlying health issues.
It wasn’t until you developed an infection, two years later, that someone spotted the folded towel on an X-ray. You could argue that you had no way of knowing about the towel until that point and ask the court to grant you the additional six months time to file a claim.
But there’s another catch: Under the law, you still only have a maximum of four years from the date of the alleged medical malpractice to file a claim — no matter how long it took you find out. So, if you didn’t discover the problem until three years and 11 months had passed since your surgery, you’d have at most one month to make a claim.
What should you do if you suspect malpractice?
Understanding the rules of a medical malpractice claim isn’t easy. You don’t have to wade through it alone. Take your story to an experienced legal advocate and let them help you determine if you have a case.