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How long do you have to file a medical malpractice claim?

Jan 4, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

If you recently suffered from medical malpractice in Washington or another state, it is essential to act quickly to pursue civil damages. State laws define strict time windows when your claim is valid, and these are not suggestions but hard and fast deadlines. 

Depending on your unique circumstances, you may qualify for an exception, but in most cases, you will want to understand the relevant statutes of limitations and abide by them. 

Statutes of limitations

Under Washington law, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is three years from the date of injury. This is the same time frame as general personal injury claims in the state. 

However, in many cases, the damage from poor medical treatment does not become recognizable until long after the procedure or care. For example, patients have suffered severe medical disorders years after surgery as the result of towels or medical equipment the practitioner mistakenly left in their abdomens. 

Because of this, Washington allows claims either within three years of the original incident or within one year of a later discovery. In most cases, the law further limits this additional year to within eight years of the original incident, but in cases of fraud, concealment or foreign bodies such as the above example, this eight-year rule does not apply. 

Other states have their own limitations and rules for tolling time in medical malpractice claims. 

Other relevant laws

There are many cases that fall under a separate set of laws than traditional medical malpractice statutes. For example, Washington and most other states require that medical malpractice claims relate only to cases when the practitioner was acting within the scope of his or her occupational role. 

For example, a surgeon is guilty of medical malpractice for causing you harm during surgery but not for crashing his car into yours leaving the hospital. Defendants may argue that an incident in question fell outside of the medical practitioner’s duty. In these cases, you may be better off pursuing a personal injury claim. This will depend on your unique circumstances. 

There are also specific laws for civil suits against government entities like public hospitals and universities, and specific laws for federal tort claims.