One of the most frustrating roadblocks for would-be plaintiffs in many civil lawsuits is the statute of limitations. These are laws that put a time limit on how long a plaintiff is allowed to file a lawsuit after the harm that prompted the suit. There are also criminal statutes of limitation (after which a person cannot be prosecuted for a crime), but our conversation this week will focus solely on civil matters. Specifically, we'll be discussing statutes of limitation on medical malpractice claims.
There are two logical starting points that most states use: The date that the medical malpractice occurred and the date that the patient first discovers the injury. Under Oregon law, patients generally must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years of discovering the injury. There is an important caveat, however. Regardless of when the injury is discovered, patients cannot file a lawsuit more than five years after the date the malpractice-related harm occurred.
Why are there statutes of limitation in the first place? They are usually there to protect defendants, and in some contexts, this makes perfect sense. In both civil and criminal cases, memories often fade over time and evidence may be lost or poorly preserved.
That being said, there are times when statutes of limitation need to be lengthened (or tied to the discovery of injury rather than the injury itself). As an example, workers exposed to asbestos might not discover health problems until decades later.
Unfortunately, some states have statute-of-limitations laws that are very unfavorable to plaintiffs, making it especially difficult to sue for medical malpractice. Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.