Recent studies indicate that medical malpractice is far from a rare occurrence. Medical errors result in the third leading cause of death in the country, trailing only heart disease and cancer.
In Indiana, the situation is no less concerning. The state ranks 14th in the number of medical malpractice payments per capita as of 2022. The most common allegation in these cases is failure to diagnose, and the most common nature of the claim is surgery error.
Considering this scenario, medical malpractice represents a significant concern, with its repercussions often proving devastating for patients. In the state of Indiana, laws and regulations have been established to govern medical malpractice cases, including specific time limitations for filing a lawsuit.
What is Considered Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice, as defined under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, is a legal concept that arises when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, or medical institution, deviates from the accepted standards of practice in the medical community, leading to patient harm or injury. This deviation can occur in various aspects of patient care, including diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management.
In more specific terms, medical malpractice cases can involve situations such as a physician failing to diagnose a condition correctly, leading to inappropriate treatment and deteriorating health outcomes. It could also involve a surgeon committing an error during a procedure, causing unnecessary injury to the patient.
However, it’s important to note that not all medical errors constitute malpractice. For an act to be considered malpractice under Indiana law, it must meet certain criteria, which include filling a claim in a period established in the Statute of Limitations.
Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice in Indiana
The term “statute of limitations” refers to the time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In Indiana, the general rule for medical malpractice cases is that a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date the malpractice occurred.
General Rule: Two-Year Limit
The two-year limit is the standard time frame for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Indiana. This means that if you believe you have been a victim of medical malpractice, you generally have two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit.
However, it’s important to note that this time frame begins from the date the malpractice occurred, not necessarily when the harm was discovered. This is a crucial distinction that can significantly impact the timing of a lawsuit.
Exception for Minors
There are exceptions to the general rule, particularly when the victim of the malpractice is a minor.
According to the Indiana Code, if the victim of the malpractice is a minor (under the age of six), the time limit is extended. In such cases, the lawsuit can be filed any time before the minor’s eighth birthday. This exception is designed to protect the rights of minors who may not have the capacity to initiate a lawsuit within the standard two-year limit.
However, if the malpractice claim arises after a child’s 6th birthday, the Act’s two-year statute of limitations will apply to the claim, and it is not tolled to a later age.
The Discovery Rule in Indiana
The “discovery rule” is another exception to the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Indiana. This rule is particularly relevant in cases where the harm caused by the malpractice is not immediately apparent, such as in cases of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. According to the law, this rule applies when the victim did not discover (and could not reasonably have discovered) that they were harmed by malpractice until after the two-year limit had passed.
In such cases, the victim has two years from the date they discovered (or should have discovered) the malpractice to file a lawsuit. This rule is designed to ensure that victims of medical malpractice are not denied their right to seek justice simply because they were not immediately aware of the malpractice.
Foreign Objects Left in the Body
A unique exception to the two-year limit applies when a foreign object has been left in a patient’s body. According to the Indiana Code, if the alleged malpractice involves leaving a foreign object in the patient’s body, the patient has two years from the date the object was discovered or should have been discovered to file a lawsuit.
This exception recognizes the fact that a patient may not immediately be aware that a foreign object has been left in their body following a surgical procedure. It ensures that such patients have a fair opportunity to seek redress once the foreign object is discovered.
The Importance of Acting Swiftly
In medical malpractice cases, time is of the essence. Despite the existence of certain exceptions to the standard two-year statute of limitations in Indiana, it’s crucial not to delay if you suspect you’ve been a victim of medical malpractice. Here’s why:
- Preservation of evidence: The longer you wait, the harder it may be to gather crucial evidence. Medical records, witness testimonies, and other pertinent information are easier to collect closer to the time of the incident.
- Building a strong case: Starting your case early allows more time for your legal team to thoroughly investigate the incident and build a compelling case on your behalf.
- Preventing loss of rights: If you wait too long and miss the deadline set by the statute of limitations, you may lose your right to sue altogether. Acting promptly helps to safeguard your legal rights.
Remember, every case is unique, and the information provided here is a general guide. For advice tailored to your specific situation, consult with a professional legal advisor. It’s also important to note that the legal landscape is constantly evolving, and changes in laws or regulations may affect the statute of limitations or other aspects of your case. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek legal from a medical malpractice lawyer advice as soon as possible if you believe you have a valid claim.