Statute of Limitations in Cases of Medical Negligence and Malpractice Claims

Last updated on: September 6, 2022

A person who suffers harm at the hands of a third party may have a right to bring a lawsuit and seek compensation. There are many types of injuries for which a person can bring suit against another party to recover damages. 

Because of that, the possibility of unlimited and open-ended litigation discourages companies and individuals from doing business. In addition, as claims age, evidence may be lost, witnesses may move or pass away, and the facts may be blurred, forgotten, or distorted. 

When Should I File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Some medical malpractice victims want to wait as long as possible to file their claim to realize the extent of their injuries and receive the maximum compensation. However, if you wait too long to file, you might surpass your state’s statute of limitations. 

Failing to file within the designated time period will cause an injured person to lose the right to recover from the party who caused the injury, with very few exceptions. The statute of limitations in a medical malpractice claim is two or three years. However, because of specific requirements for those types of claims, a person injured by negligence should seek help immediately.

The Four Elements of Medical Negligence

According to the National Library of Medicine, medical negligence, also called medical malpractice, refers to “any act or omission by a physician during the treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community and causes an injury to the patient.” Doctors, dentists, obstetricians, nurses, and sometimes even hospitals can be liable for medical negligence. 

To verify that you suffered medical negligence, you must prove the following four things:

  1. The care provider owed you a professional duty of care. 
  2. The care provider breached the standard of the duty of care.
  3. You suffered an injury for which you can receive compensation.
  4. The care provider’s breach caused your injury.

In ordinary negligence, the defendant should have exercised ordinary care. This level of care is that which a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have taken to prevent foreseeable harm. The duty of care is notably higher for medical professionals. 

A doctor must provide a patient with the same level of care that an average doctor in that field would have provided. The doctor can act with discretion and even use a less popular treatment method, but the technique should still be commonly accepted. Additionally, the doctor need not provide the same level of care as an outstanding doctor in the same field of practice, but the doctor’s level of care should be at least that of an average doctor.

When the doctor fails to meet the level of care that an average doctor in the same field would provide, they have breached the duty of care to the patient. This can occur if the doctor misreads or misinterprets test results, or fails to diagnose or misdiagnoses a patient. It also occurs when a surgeon makes surgical errors or unnecessary surgery or a pharmacist provides the wrong prescription or dosage.

To meet the requirements for medical negligence, you must have also received an injury for which you can be legally compensated. Physical injuries usually allow you to meet that requirement. 

Finally, you must show that your injury was caused by the medical professional’s breach of duty. If you cannot show this, you might not be able to file a claim for medical negligence successfully.

Time Limits When Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Your State

The timeline for the statute of limitations begins from the date of the incident. This means that you have one to six years to file your claim from the day the accident occurred, depending on the state. 

There are different statutes of limitations for different kinds of legal claims. If you are attempting to find the statute of limitations for medical malpractice in your state, ensure that you look at the correct state for the right area of law.

Different States, Different Rules

Statutes of limitations are state laws, so there is no blanket deadline for medical malpractice claims. However, most states allow two or three years for victims to file their claims after instances of medical negligence occur. There are important exceptions to the two- and three-year deadlines, however. 

Two-Year Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice

The majority of states have a two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice. They include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida 
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Three-Year Statute of Limitations

Most other states have a three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice. They include:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Still other states have one-year, two-and-a-half-year, and four-year statutes of limitations. 


An injury may not be apparent when a potential claim arises. For instance, if a person has surgery and a piece of sponge or a fragment of an instrument is left behind, there may not be an immediate indication of the error. The patient may not exhibit symptoms for days, even months after the mistake was made.

To address this issue, many states have adopted what is known as a “Discovery Rule.” The discovery rule allows injured parties to suspend, or “toll,” the period until they know or should know that the injury was caused by medical negligence. 

When an injury is severe or obvious, people will get treated. If symptoms are less severe, a person may wait. However, waiting to treat for too long when a reasonable person would have known an injury from a medical procedure occurred may destroy the right to recovery.  

In addition to the discovery rule, many states have an exception to the statute of limitations when the victim was a minor at the time of the incident. A minor likely relied on their parents to file on their behalf for the injury, and the parents may have neglected to do so. For that reason, many states will not begin the time period for the statute of limitations until the minor turns eighteen.

Our Personal Injury Lawyers Act Nationwide

Because the statute of limitations and its exceptions can complicate a case, medical malpractice claims require the assistance of competent counsel. Medical negligence claims can be highly complex from both a legal and a medical standpoint. Knowing the deadlines prescribed by the courts’ rules and managing the necessary steps required prior to filing suit are just as essential to a successful claim as filing suit before the deadline. 

These types of cases require many steps to be successful. Getting a Zinda Law Group personal injury lawyer involved immediately after an injury or when medical negligence is suspected of causing damage will give an injured person the best chance for recovery.

Our attorneys understand the deadlines involved in medical malpractice claims and have the experience and resources to help you pursue maximum compensation. We have offices in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Florida. Call us at (800) 863-5312 for a free case evaluation.

How Long Does It Take to File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

The process of filing a claim for medical malpractice does not necessarily take very much time, depending on the facts of your case. So long as you have enough information to allege the elements of medical negligence against the correct party or parties, you may file your claim. If you are worried that you will not be able to file your claim before the statute of limitations prevents you from suing, speak with an attorney in your state.