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You may be asking: “What is the difference between the Captain of the Ship Doctrine and the Borrowed Servant Doctrine?” when it comes to determining who is responsible in a medical malpractice or dental malpractice case.

Captain of the Ship Doctrine

Under the Captain of the Ship Doctrine, the doctor is responsible for everything that happens while he is in charge, whether it was done by people under his control or not.  If another surgeon comes in to help him and makes a mistake, he can still be held responsible, even though the other doctor is a fully-qualified specialist.  This doctrine imposes more responsibility on the doctor than the Borrowed Servant Doctrine; however, a lot of states do not recognize it.

Borrowed Servant Doctrine

Under the Borrowed Servant Doctrine, a doctor is only responsible for the people under his supervision and control.  Under this doctrine, he cannot be held responsible for the actions of another specialist.


If a doctor or hospital has the authority to control someone else, that person may be his agent or the hospital’s agent, and the doctor or hospital can be held liable for the agent’s actions.  They may be in different locations and have never met.  What matters is the Authority to Control, not actual control.

In a Colorado malpractice case, a ski instructor suffered a broken knee on the slopes.  The municipality where he was injured had an arrangement with a Denver hospital that all accident cases would be taken to the office of a local pediatrician, who would give emergency treatment, and send the patient on to the Denver hospital.  Even though the man asked to be taken to a nearby orthopaedic surgeon, the rescue squad took him to the pediatrician, who manipulated the knee, tearing the ligaments, and causing permanent damage.  When the man sued, the Denver hospital claimed that its contract was with the town, and the hospital had no control over the pediatrician.  But, the court held that the pediatrician was acting as the hospital’s agent, because the hospital had the authority to tell the pediatrician to send it all injured people brought in by the rescue squad.  The jury awarded the plaintiff damages against all three: the pediatrician, the hospital, and the municipality.

In a New York case, a heart specialist engaged a retired doctor to make follow-up visits to his patients in the hospital and at home, as they were convalescing.  The arrangement was that the retired doctor would charge the patients directly for his services and could be completely independent.  The retired doctor missed signs of a recurring heart attack in an elderly lady and she died.  The heart specialist claimed that he was not responsible for the doctor, who was an independent physician.  But, the court held that the retired doctor was acting as the heart specialist’s agent, because the specialist had the authority to tell him how to treat his patients.

It can be difficult to determine who exactly was at fault in your client’s medical malpractice case.  JD.MD can help you.  Contact us today at 800-225-5363 for an initial case evaluation or a medical expert’s opinion.

With any doctor patient relationship, there should be mutual respect and trust between the two parties. Support is provided to the patient through open and honest discussion where diagnoses and treatment plans can be made and activated.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and many patients find themselves victims of medical or dental malpractice.

The following will help you to better understand a successful doctor patient relationship:

1. A Promise of Care in Return for Consideration

A doctor will take you into his care, then advise and treat you in return for payment or promise of payment, whether you actually pay or not.

2. A Promise of Care Creating Justifiable Reliance

A doctor on a camping trip promised his friend that his chest pain was not serious, and the friend relied on the doctor’s promise, to his detriment – the friend had a heart attack.

However, a promise of care with no consideration or reliance does not create a doctor patient relationship, such as a doctor giving advice at a social function, if you did not pay the doctor or take his advice.

With no doctor patient relationship established, the doctor cannot be responsible for any illness or injuries caused to you, since they were not caused by his advice.

3. The Doctor has to be Acting in his Capacity as a Physician or Dentist

If you express a medical or dental concern to someone who does not hold himself out as a doctor, and you do not know he is a doctor, he is not liable, and you cannot claim to have acted in reliance on his advice.

The Rule Is: If you relied on people to treat your medical or dental condition, because you were led to believe they were qualified professionals, you had the necessary doctor patient relationship, even if you do not know who they were, never saw them, or never paid them any money.

Thousands of patients suffer due to medical and dental malpractice and do not get the compensation they deserve. If you are a victim of malpractice, or your client is a victim of malpractice, contact JD.MD, Inc., today at 800-225-5363. We can provide you with an initial case evaluation or an expert opinion.

People used to think that suing a pillar of the community for medical malpractice or dental malpractice was a terrible thing. This point of view was encouraged by the medical and dental professions, whose attitude was, “How can people be so ungrateful when we are dedicated to saving humanity?” And, when the doctor was a family friend and confidant, that was a valid argument.

Many Doctors are Highly-Paid Technicians

But today, that relationship is basically gone. Many doctors are highly-paid technicians, who have spent a lot of time and money being educated, so they can earn a very good living. They are super specialized, which means they are concerned with treating one part of the body or one organ, and most of them have little free time for a patient’s personal problems or anything outside their narrow field of expertise. They see patients as technical problems to be cured and gotten on their way as quickly as possible. Some doctors see as many as a 70 patients a day. How much time do you think such a doctor has to listen to your personal problems?

Even the Most Learned Professors Make Mistakes

In the past, when the doctor was the trusted family advisor, a medical malpractice or dental malpractice lawsuit was considered a breach of trust and friendship and a terrible accusation that the doctor had committed an unprofessional act. A doctor, who was sued, felt his reputation and career were on the line. Those days are gone. Today, the law recognizes that even the most learned professors make mistakes. When people are injured by medical malpractice or dental malpractice, they should be compensated.

Many Doctors are Sued, and It Does Not Hurt Their Prestige or Incomes

Even if your claim is successful, you are not going to bankrupt the doctor, or take away his home, or lifetime earnings. When a doctor is sued for medical malpractice or dental malpractice, his insurance company hires a lawyer, pays the expenses of his defense, and any settlement or judgment against him. If the doctor’s insurance company settles the case out of court, the doctor may not have to spend a single afternoon away from his office, explaining his actions in court. In fact, defense lawyers often ask the judge to issue an order that any settlement paid to a victim remain “sealed and secret”, so it is difficult or impossible to find out whether the doctor was successfully sued for malpractice, and his reputation and income remain intact. Today, many doctors are sued, and it does not hurt their prestige or their incomes.

Thousands of patients suffer, due to malpractice, and do not get the compensation they deserve. If you are a victim of malpractice, or your client is a victim of malpractice, contact JD.MD, Inc., today at 800-225-5363. We can provide you with an initial case evaluation or an expert’s opinion.

Juries see a medical malpractice or a dental malpractice lawsuit not as a contest between the doctor and his injured patient, to be divided on strict principles of right and wrong, like a criminal trial. Jurors are concerned with finding ways and funds to compensate the victims of malpractice.

Of course, the concern of jurors will not do any good, if it does not result in adequate compensation for your injuries and losses. Luckily, there is the equivalent of a billion dollar malpractice trust fund that has been established for your protection and compensation.

Judgment Proof Doctors

Doctors carry malpractice insurance for their own protection. In the 1970’s the cost of malpractice insurance rose dramatically. The reaction of many doctors was to reduce their insurance premiums by carrying less insurance or going bareback, meaning they had no malpractice insurance at all. That created the risk that a successful lawsuit against them could result in a levy against their personal wealth. So, doctors set up legal dodges, such as putting all their assets in the names of their wives or children, or setting up corporations or trust funds, which were protected from malpractice judgments. A court award or judgment is just a piece of paper if you cannot enforce it, and many victims of malpractice found that they could not obtain justice through the courts.

Plaintiffs discovered that the doctors who injured them had no insurance and were Judgment Proof, meaning plaintiffs could not enforce court judgments when they won. Plaintiffs then began suing the hospitals, where the malpractice occurred, under the legal theory known as Joint and Several Liability. Hospital insurance premiums soared. Since many hospitals are financed largely by public funds, the states and municipalities found themselves having to spend large sums to care for severely-injured malpractice victims of judgment-proof doctors and for hospital insurance.

Mandatory Malpractice Insurance

As a result, today all hospitals and health plans require doctors to carry adequate malpractice insurance, in order to have a staff appointment and treat patients in the institution. Many states have also started to institute mandatory malpractice insurance requirements to obtain licensure.

The requirement for mandatory malpractice insurance by states and hospitals is not for the doctors’ protection; they can do that for themselves. It is a billion dollar malpractice trust fund that has been created for your protection and compensation. If you can show that you were injured by someone’s negligence, you are entitled to be compensated by this fund.

Thousands of patients suffer, due to malpractice, and do not get the compensation they deserve. If you are a victim of malpractice, or your client is a victim of malpractice, contact JD.MD, Inc., today at 800-225-5363. We can provide you with an initial case evaluation or an expert’s opinion.

Obviously, you cannot throw the burden of proof onto the doctor just to make it easier for you. In order for your lawyer to plead res ipsa, you have to satisfy three conditions:

1. What

happened to you must be the sort of thing that does not n

ormally happen in the absence of medical malpractice or dental malpractice.

Like the patient finding his shoulder was damaged after an appendectomy, the injury has to be something that cannot be easily explained as a normal complication, such as having a sore foot for a few weeks after foot surgery, or your 90 year-old grandmother dying of a stroke. It has to be something out of the ordinary, and something the doctors never warned you about, such as finding that your baby is brain damaged after you were led to believe your pregnancy and delivery were normal.

2. Whatever was done was under the physician’s or dentist’s exclusive control.

The best example of this is a surgery in which the doctor has full authority and responsibility for everything that is done. It is known as the Captain of the Ship theory.

3. You were either unconscious at the time of your injury or doing exactly what you were told to do by the physician or dentist.

What happened was not due to any voluntary act on your part, and you were not guilty of contributory negligence.

In a New Jersey case, a doctor treated a woman for a chronic chest complaint without ever taking a chest x-ray. Finally, after six years, another doctor took an x-ray and found she had tuberculosis. When the first doctor was sued, he said it was the patient’s fault. If she did not improve in six years, she should have consulted another doctor. No one forced her to keep going back to him when she was not getting better. The court disagreed, stating that the patient could not be criticized for misplaced confidence in her doctor and following his orders faithfully. He had exclusive control and was the only one to blame.

Your lawyer will tell you that pleading res ipsa is risky, and your chances of winning are not good. He will probably recommend using it only as a last resort, if you absolutely cannot find a doctor willing to act as your medical expert witness or

dental expert witness. Even though your case may be obvious, the defense lawyers will bring in experts against you and raise side issues and legal technicalities that you will probably lose.

But res ipsa does come into malpractice cases in another way and can be useful when you do not know exactly what happened or who was responsible. In order to sustain a legal complaint against somebody, whether it is for medical malpractice, dental malpractice, or food poisoning in a restaurant, you have to prove three things:

1. What injury you suffered.
2. Who was responsible.
3. How that person’s actions caused the injury.

What if you are not sure what happened, or who did it? When you go to a doctor’s office or into a hospital, people will say: “take this pill”, “hold still for an injection”, etc. Either they do not explain what they are going to do, or it is highly technical, and you do not understand it. People you never saw before, and may never see again, do all sorts of things to you. A doctor comes into your room the night before surgery, asks you a few questions, listens to your heart, and leaves. You do not know who he is or what his function is, but this is the doctor, who is going to give you anesthesia the next day. For three or four hours, your life and future health will be in his hands.

You have headaches or chest pains, and your doctor sends you to the hospital for arteriography (x-rays of an artery). In the x-ray department, someone you do not know, who could be a doctor, a nurse, or a technician, puts a tube into the artery in your groin and threads it up to your heart or brain and injects dye, so they can take pictures of the arteries. This is medicine at its best. But, do you know who they are or what they are doing? You can only hope they are qualified do it right.

In a Missouri case, a man had an aneurysm (weak spot and bulge) of an artery in the brain. Aneurysms can burst and kill you, but brain surgery to clamp them is risky and expensive. So, it was decided to use another treatment. The doctor put a tube into the femoral artery (in the groin) and threaded it up to the aneurysm in the brain. Then he injected a medical version of crazy glue, which sticks to human tissue. The glue seals the leak just as effectively as brain surgery. When it works, it is magic.

Before pulling out the tube, the doctor sent the patient back to x-ray to check that the glue was in the right place. But, by the time the x-rays were taken, the glue had hardened around the tip of the tube. One end of the tube was stuck to his brain, and the other was sticking out of his groin. The tube could not be pulled out without tearing the artery and causing a potentially fatal hemorrhage. The court held that a juror does not need a medical expert

witness to know that the tube should not have been left in until the glue hardened, and the patient did not need an expert to explain the malpractice.

Or, you are in an automobile accident and taken to the ER. They admit you to the hospital, where you may be treated by several different doctors and nurses. Ideally, you get the best medical care, and everything turns out fine. But, when you are discharged from the hospital and find out something was done wrong, how do you know when or where it happened, or who did it? Can you use res ipsa in those situations?

The way res ipsa works is best seen in a famous California case. A doctor took out a patient’s appendix, and when the patient woke up, he found that the nerves and muscles of one shoulder were permanently damaged. It is a long way from the appendix to the shoulder, so he sued the doctor for medical malpractice. Remember, we said you have to say who hurt you and how they did it in order to establish your case. The doctor’s lawyer said the patient did not have a case, because he could not say 1.) who had injured him, or 2.) how it had been done.

That was unfair, because the patient was asleep at the time, and there was no way he could know what happened. All he knew was that he had a normal shoulder before the operation and was crippled when he woke up. The case went up to the California Supreme Court, not once but twice, and both times the court said the plaintiff did not have to say who hurt him or how he was injured. Since the doctors and nurses were the only ones who knew what took place, it was up to them to explain how the injury could have happened without negligence.

That is how you can use the theory of res ipsa. When you do not know what happened, it shifts the burden of proving how you were injured to the doctor, who then has to prove he did not commit medical malpractice or dental malpractice. Does that go against the spirit of the law that says you are innocent until proven guilty? No. It is a matter of fairness and makes the person who has the information come forward with it. If a doctor could cover up merely by refusing to disclose what happened, it would be easy for him to win malpractice suits by concealing the evidence and would be unfair to his patients. Res ipsa makes the doctor come forth with the evidence and justify his actions.

Do you always need a medical expert witness or a dental expert witness to explain a doctor’s malpractice to the jury? You do, but there is an exception. The function of a medical expert witness or

a dental expert witness is to explain technical arguments in simple terms the jury can understand. In medical malpractice and dental malpractice cases, each side hires doctors as expert witnesses, to explain its version of what happened to the jurors.

What if you cannot find a doctor, who is willing to be your expert witness and testify on your behalf? If you do not have an expert witness, the judge will probably rule that you have failed to make a Prima Facie Case, which means you have failed to show you have a valid complaint, and the judge will dismiss your case before the jury even hears your arguments.

Can you get around that obstacle, or do you just let your case go? Theoretically, if you know a lot about medicine, you could take the witness stand and explain your side of the argument, but you would have very little chance of winning. Your expertise would be

no match for the specialists testifying against you, and you would be an easy mark for a skilled, defense lawyer.

Winning a medical malpractice or dental malpractice lawsuit is like winning a boxing championship – you actually have to beat the champ. A tie will not do. In a medical malpractice or dental malpractice lawsuit, the doctor you are suing can act as his own expert, because he is an expert – and win.

There is another way you can go. If the malpractice is so obvious that the average juror can understand it without an explanation, there is a legal theory called Res Ipsa Loquitur, which means “the thing speaks for itself”, and in most states, you do not need an expert witness. In an Illinois case, a patient had a myelogram (injection of dye into the spinal canal) to diagnose the cause of back pain. During the injection, he felt a severe pain in his leg and afterward found that his leg was permanently paralyzed. Since he was not lame when he walked into the hospital, and paralysis is not a normal and usual complication of a myelogram, the court held that the average juror could understand there was malpractice, and he did not need a medical expert witness to explain what happened. In a Kansas case, a surgeon left a gauze sponge in a woman’s abdomen. The court ruled it was common knowledge that leaving a sponge in a patient was malpractice, and the woman did not need a medical expert witness.

There is a time when you do not have to prove that anybody did anything wrong. That is when you are injured by a defective product, whether it is a surgical instrument, an electrical or mechanical device, splint, or an implant. Let us say you ha

d a severe burn from an electric cautery during surgery, or your hip implant broke, or your spouse had a fatal heart attack because of a defective pacemaker. All you have to show is the product or medicine was defective or harmful, and you were injured. You do not have to show there was medical malpractice or dental malpractice.

Years ago, if a manufactured product injured someone, the only person who could bring a lawsuit was the person who had bought the product. If it injured anyone else, there was nothing they could do about it, because the law said they did not have what lawyers call Privity of Contract with the manufacturer. The manufacturer was only responsible to the people who bought its product and did not have any responsibility for other people who might use it and be injured.

In an old Wisconsin case, a mother and her infant were leaving the hospital in a hospital wheelchair. The brakes were defective and allowed the wheelchair to roll into the street, where it was hit by a car. The infant was killed. When the parents sued the company that made the wheelchair and the hospital, the judge dismissed the suit. He said the company had no responsibility to the parents, because it had not sold them the wheelchair. The hospital was not liable, because it had not manufactured the wheelchair and did not know it was defective.

That theory no longer applies to injuries caused by a defective product. Today, if you are injured by a manufactured product or device, and not by someone’s actions, every person who had anything to do with the accident can be sued under what is called the theory of Strict Liability. Lawyers call it the Stream of Commerce, because a manufactured product is like a log put into a fast-running river that crashes into things as it is swept downstream. Anyone who is damaged by it, even a thousand miles downstream, has a claim against the person who put it into the water. Once a defective product is sold

to the public, there is no way of knowing who will use it or where it will end up. So, the law says that everyone who had anything to do with putting it into the Stream of Commerce has a responsibility for whatever damage it does and can be sued by anybody who is injured by it. Under today’s law, the Wisconsin parents would be able to sue the manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer of the wheelchair, and the hospital.

The U.S. Constitution says all powers not spelled out in the Constitution are reserved to the states. If the Constitution does not give the Federal Government authority to control something, it comes under state control. Health law comes under s

tate control, and each state makes its own laws and rules, concerning medical malpractice and dental malpractice.

The following is a list of state time limits, or statutes of limitations, which has been abbreviated. You can see what the statute is in your state; however, the laws do change, and there are important exceptions to the rules. In some states, the courts allow different time limits than those set

by law. In the states that use the hybrid rule, the time limit is an absolute deadline, and your case must be dismissed, if you are even one day late. In states that balance the equities, your lawyer may obtain an extension from the judge, but it is a needless risk that you should not run.

The Rule Is: Whether you live in a state that uses the hybrid rule or one that balances the equities, file your lawsuit early and avoid the deadline. If there is any question about the time limit in your case, do not try to figure it out yourself – consult a lawyer.

State Statutes of Limitations in Medical Malpractice and Dental Malpractice:

Alabama – 2 years from injury or discovery; 4 years absolute limit. Minors under 4 years have until 8th birthday.
Alaska – 2 years from injury or discovery. Two years + 1 day of a minor’s 18th birthday.
Arizona – 2 years from injury. Statute tolled if claimant is under 18, mentally incompetent, or imprisoned.
Arkansas – 2 years from injury. Minors under age 9 have until 11th birthday.
California – 3 years from injury or discovery; statute tolled by foreign object concealment. Minors under 6 have until 8th birthday; outside limit 4 years.
Colorado – 2 years from discovery; other types of disability until 2 years after termination; statute tolled by concealment. Minors under 6 have 2 years after 6th birthday.
Connecticut – 2 years from injury or discovery. No extension for minors.
Delaware – 2 years from injury; 3 years from discovery; minors have until 6th birthday.
District of Columbia – 3 years from injury or discovery; limitation period begins to run on minor’s 18th birthday.
Florida – 2 years from injury or discovery; outside limit 4 years. Limitations apply to minors aged 8 or older; child under 8 must file suit by 8th birthday or within limitations period outlined above, which ever time period is greater.
Georgia – 2 years from injury; 1 year from discovery of foreign object; no action may be brought more than 5 years after injury. Minors have until 7th birthday; statute of repose cannot run before minor’s 10th birthday.
Hawaii – 2 years from injury or discovery; failure to disclose malpractice tolls the statute. Absolute limit 6 years.
Idaho – 2 years from injury. Statue begins to run upon a minor’s 18th birthday.
Illinois – 2 years from injury or discovery; if injury cannot be discovered during 2 year period, action must be filed within 4 years of injury; suits may be brought up to 8 years after injury but not after age 22.
Indiana – 2 years from injury. Minors under 6 have until 8th birthday.
Iowa – 2 years from injury or discovery; 6 year absolute limit. Also applies to minors 8 or older; minors under 8 have 2 years from date of injury or by 10th birthday, whichever is later.
Kansas – 2 years from injury or discovery; maximum of 4 years from occurrence. Minors have until within 1 year of 18th birthday, but not more than 8 years after injury.
Kentucky – 1 year from injury; 5 year absolute limit. For unmarried minors, statute begins to run on 18th birthday; for married minors, statute begins to run upon date of marriage.
Louisiana – 1 year from injury or discovery; 3 year absolute limit. Concealment tolls statute.
Maine – 3 years after date of injury; action accrues on date when foreign object in body is discovered or should have been discovered. Minors have 6 years after injury or within 3 years after minor reaches age of majority, whichever occurs first.
Maryland – 5 years from injury or 3 years from discovery of injury; 3 years from occurrence for death. Minors under 16 have until 16th birthday.
Massachusetts – 3 years from injury or discovery; disability 3 years after removal; concealment tolls the statute until 3 years after discovery. Minors under 6 have until 9th birthday.
Michigan – 2 years from date of injury, or within 6 months of discovery to a maximum of 6 years following injury. Minors under 8 statute begins to run on 10th birthday, or within the 2 year statute of limitations, whichever is greater. Minors under 13 with injuries to the reproductive system have until 15th birthday or within the 2 year statute of limitations, whichever is greater.
Minnesota – 4 years from injury or omission. Minors must file within 1 year of 18th birthday but no more than 7 years after date of injury.
Mississippi – 2 years from injury, omission, or discovery; not more than 7 years after injury or omission.
Missouri – 2 years from injury or omission; not more than 10 years after date of the act. Minors under 8 must file by 20th birthday.
Montana – 3 years from injury or discovery; absolute limit 5 years.
Nebraska – 2 years from injury or death; 1 year from discovery; 2 years from last treatment in failure to diagnose cancer; absolute limit 10 years.
Nevada – 3 years from injury, omission, or within 1 year of date of discovery, whichever is earlier; minors included. Minors with brain damage or birth defects have until 10th birthday; minors whose injuries result in sterility have 2 years from date of discovery.
New Hampshire – 2 years from injury; 2 years from discovery of foreign object.
New Jersey – 2 years from injury, omission, or discovery. Statute begins to run on a minor’s 18th birthday; minors with birth injuries must file by 13th birthday.
New Mexico – 3 years from injury or death; concealment tolls statute. Minors under 6 have until 9th birthday.
New York – 30 months from injury or omission; 1 year from date foreign object was or should have been discovered. Minors have 3 years from date of 18th birthday to commence action, but statute cannot be extended more than 10 years from date of injury or omission.
North Carolina – 3 years from injury or omission; 2 years from discovery to a maximum of 4 years; 2 years for wrongful death; 1 year for discovery of foreign object to a maximum of 10 years after date of injury. Minors within 1 year of 18th birthday.
North Dakota – 2 years from injury or discovery; maximum of 6 years. Disability of a minor may not extend statute by more than 12 years.
Ohio – Notice to defendant within 1 year of injury; action may be filed 180 days after notice; service of notice tolls statute by 180 days; 1 year for foreign object, but not more than 4 years after object discovered. Minors have 4 years after injury.
Oklahoma – 2 years from injury or discovery; 2 years for death or newborn. Minority and mental incompetence extend time limit, except for newborns.
Oregon – 2 years from injury; 3 years from death; absolute limit 5 years, except for concealment.
Pennsylvania – 2 years from injury or death; concealment and disability toll statute.
Rhode Island – 3 years from injury. Statute begins to run on minor’s 18th birthday.
South Carolina – 3 years from injury or discovery; 6 years for death; 2 years from discovery of foreign object or negligent placement of device; disability 2 years from discovery or 1 year from removal.
South Dakota – 2 years after injury or omission. Minors under 6 have 2 years after 6th birthday to file; minors 6 and older must file within 3 years from injury or omission.
Tennessee – 1 year from date of injury or discovery; not more than 3 years after injury except for concealment; 1 year after discovery of concealment; 1 year for discovery of foreign object. Statute begins to run on minor’s 18th birthday.
Texas – 2 years for injury or omission; not more than 10 years after that date. Minors under 12 have until 14th birthday.
Utah – 2 years for injury or discovery; 1 year from date of insertion of foreign object left in body or discovery; not more than 4 years from date of injury or omission. Statute runs on minor’s 18th birthday.
Vermont – 3 years for injury and discovery; 2 years from occurrence for death; concealment tolls statute; absolute limit 7 years; 20 years from last treatment for x-ray injuries.
Virginia – 2 years from injury or omission; 1 year for foreign object left or discovered, but not more than 10 years after insertion. Minors under 8 have until 10th birthday.
Washington – 3 years for injury; 1 year after discovery.
West Virginia – 2 years for injury or death; concealment tolls the statute.
Wisconsin – 3 years from injury or death; 1 year from discovery; concealment tolls statute. Minors have until age 10.
Wyoming – 2 years from injury, discovery, or death; disability tolls statute until 1 year after removal; court may grant extension if malpractice not discoverable with due diligence. Minors have until 8th birthday.

The Rule Is: These state time limits, which are subject to change, are absolute deadlines. After they run out, you cannot file your lawsuit for medical malpractice or dental malpractice. If your case is near its time limit, consult a lawyer as soon as possible.

Date of the Occurrence

This is the date the malpractice actually occurred. You were the victim of medical malpractice during surgery or in the emergency department of a hospital. There is no difficulty in determining the Date of the Occurrence. On the other hand, if your mother went to a doctor complaining of a lump in her breast, and he saw her several times over a period of a year but failed to do a diagnostic work-up that would have revealed cancer, the date of the occurrence could be difficult to determine. Or, if you had a series of spinal manipulations for a bad back, you cannot be sure which one caused your fractured vertebrae.

Date of Discovery

Often, it is difficult to determine precisely when malpractice and injury occurred. In some cases, it is not even discovered until after the time limit, counting from the date of the occurrence, has run out. Therefore, most states use another measure called the Date of Discovery. This is the date on which a reasonable person should have discovered that he or she was the victim of malpractice.

In most medical malpractice or dental malpractice cases, the victims do not realize they have been the victims of malpractice for a long time. They tend to think their complaints are normal and usual complications of their disease or treatment. In fact, it is estimated that almost 90% of malpractice victims do not file suit, because they never realize their injuries are due to someone’s negligence.

A Georgia man suffered a serious back injury while working on a construction site. The emergency room doctors were surprised to see a surgical clamp on the x-rays. When the doctors questioned the patient, he told them he had had stomach surgery in Delaware 20 years earlier. He also told them he had suffered from chronic stomach trouble ever since, but it had not been bad enough for him to consult a doctor. He discovered the malpractice, and the clock started running when the doctor in Georgia told him about the instrument left in his abdomen. He sued and won.

Let us assume the man in Georgia had had so much discomfort from the clamp in his abdomen, that he had gone to another doctor a year later, and that doctor said, “I don’t know why you are still having stomach trouble. Let’s take an x-ray.” But, the patient had ignored the doctor’s advice and did not do anything until later. The court would have said that he should reasonably have discovered it sooner when it would have shown up on an x-ray and failure to do so was his own fault. His complaint would be thrown out, because it was way over the time limit.

At the other extreme, a Pennsylvania woman tried to sue a plastic surgeon for medical malpractice one week after the statute of  limitations had run, because she decided that she did not like the rhinoplasty he had done. The court ruled there was no valid excuse for not having moved sooner. She had been looking at her nose every day since her surgery and had ample opportunity to make up her mind. Her case was barred.

The legal term for this is Laches, and it means that if you sit on your legal rights for a long time and do not move to enforce them, you lose them. Once you have reason to suspect medical malpractice or dental malpractice, you must move, if only to find out whether your suspicions are correct.

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