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California's medical malpractice statute of limitations

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After any personal injury, you have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for damages that occurred due to another party's negligence, carelessness, or reckless behavior. Because medical expenses and time off work can be financially devastating, it is often important to establish fault through litigation in a timely manner.

When does the clock start ticking? It's easy in a car accident case, because it happens at a specific point in time. However, a doctor error is not always easy to pinpoint. Because of that reason, the California Legislature has established a statute of limitations for medical mistakes.

What are the time limits?

You have one year from the time that you discover the harm you have suffered to file an action against a health-care provider. However, a judge could determine that you should reasonably have known about the injury at an earlier date, and that may put you past the one-year mark. The date of the mistake itself may also be significant, though. If you do not discover the injury until more than three years after the error, you cannot file a lawsuit. Because the clock is ticking, it is essential for you to contact an attorney as soon as it is apparent that you have suffered because of a medical error.

Are there exceptions?

If a doctor accidentally leaves an item in you during a surgery, the three-year rule does not apply. Likewise, if there is proof that a doctor concealed the mistake from you on purpose, or if there is evidence of fraud, litigation is possible after three years.

A mistake that affects your child's health may be an exception, as well, if it happened before he or she turned six. You have either three years or until your child's eighth birthday, whichever is longer. 

Who can be held liable?

You may be able to sue your physician, surgeon, licensed midwife or chiropractor who commits professional negligence and causes personal injury. A clinic, dispensary or another health facility that contributes to your harm may also be held liable. In the event of a medical mistake, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

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