Personal Injury Law: Minnesota Medical Malpractice

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1 Personal Injury Law: Minnesota Medical Malpractice Medical Malpractice Terms Statutes of Limitations Minnesota Medical Malpractice Laws Medical malpractice includes many forms of liability producing conduct that occur in rendering medical services. Medical malpractice does not apply solely to medical doctors. Psychiatrists, dentists, nurses and hospitals can be sued for medical malpractice. Wrongful conduct that is not unique to doctors or other health care professionals may give rise to a legal action, but does not meet the definition of medical malpractice. For example, a patient might bring a breach of contract claim against a doctor who fails to provide services agreed upon in a contract, or a patient might bring fraud charges against a doctor for misrepresenting his or her expertise. These are not medical malpractice claims. A medical malpractice lawsuit generally has four elements: duty, breach, injury and proximate causation. A judge or jury examines all four elements in a medical malpractice trial and if any element is missing, the plaintiff cannot recover. Terms Duty A doctor who has agreed to treat a patient has a duty to that patient to use at least the same level of care that any other reasonably competent doctor would use to treat a condition under the same circumstances. One problem in determining duty is that the average jury member or judge may not be able to determine what a doctor should have done in a particular instance. Medical malpractice lawsuits require expert testimony from another doctor as to the standard of care that should have been given. The plaintiff needs an affidavit from a medical expert when starting a lawsuit. There are many complex questions in deciding what testimony to allow. In every case, the judge must decide whether a doctor's actions are to be judged against all other doctors or only against doctors specializing in a particular type of practice. Some judges may allow evidence of what other doctors in the same region would do while some judges allow testimony about what other doctors nationally would have done. Success in a medical malpractice case frequently depends on how a judge answers these questions. Breach A person breaches a duty when he or she fails to use the same level of care another reasonably competent professional would exercise in the same circumstances. Breach is frequently the toughest point to prove in a medical malpractice lawsuit because competent doctors frequently disagree on the best course of action in a particular medical matter. Like law, medicine is an inexact science. A client may show that another doctor would have taken a different course of action and still be unable to show the first doctor committed a breach. The plaintiff must prove the level of care a reasonably competent professional would have exercised and show that the defendant's actions fell short of that level.

2 Injury Injury is usually not difficult to prove in medical malpractice actions. A patient dies, is left crippled or perhaps has chronic pain. Often, it is the doctor who has most trouble disproving this element because it can be difficult to prove that a patient who claims to be injured is not injured. Many legitimate injuries, such as whiplash, have few quantifiable manifestations even though they cause their sufferers to feel pain. Proximate Cause Finally, proximate causation can be difficult for a patient to prove because a bad result does not necessarily equal malpractice. Even with excellent treatment, a patient might not recover totally from the condition for which he or she seeks treatment. A doctor accused of malpractice might be able to show that even had a different treatment been followed, the patient would have suffered identical injuries. Third Party Lawsuits Third persons can sometimes bring medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors. For example, a person who gets an infectious disease from a friend might sue the friend's doctor for inadequately treating the disease. A person injured in an automobile accident might bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the driver's doctor if the doctor medicated the patient without telling the patient not to operate a car afterward. Consent Forms Consent forms required by most doctors and hospitals typically include warnings that patients must assume all the risks of any surgical procedures. By signing one of these forms, a patient does not give up all right to sue if things go wrong. Such an agreement may not be valid if a doctor does not fully inform the patient of risks associated with a particular procedure. Even a valid consent form is no protection for a doctor who either performs surgery that goes beyond the consent given or who fails to perform a procedure according to well accepted medical standards. The following information is mean to be a guide. It is believed to be accurate at the time of authorship but may not reflect the most current data due to changes in the law. If you require legal assistance or guidance with regard to Minnesota state law, contact an experienced attorney. Statute of Limitations

3 Medical malpractice actions must be commenced within four years of the date of the act or omission giving rise to the injury under Minnesota law. If a minor is injured because of medical malpractice, a lawsuit must be filed within one year of the minor's eighteenth birthday, but not more than seven years after the date of injury. Minnesota State Medical Malpractice Law This chart summarizes state medical liability/malpractice laws regarding the following provisions: Medical Liability/Malpractice Laws Last Updated: March 22, 2010 Damage Award Limits or Cap Statute of Limitation Joint and Several Liability Limits on Attorney Fees Patient Compensation or Injury Fund Doctor Apologies/Sympathetic Gestures Pre trial Alternative Dispute Resolution and Screening Panels Affidavit or Certificate of Merit Expert Witness Standards Medical or Peer Review Panels Medical Liability Provision: Summary of Provision Damage Award Limit or Cap Statute of Limitation Punitive damages shall be allowed in civil actions only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others. The court shall specifically review the punitive damages award and shall make specific findings. The appellate court, if any, also shall review the award. Nothing in this section may be construed to restrict either court's authority to limit punitive damages Four years from the date the cause of action accrues.

4 Statute of Limitation Joint and Several Liability Limits on Attorney Fees Patient Compensation or Injury Fund Doctor Apologies/Sympathetic Gestures Pre-Trial Alternative Dispute Resolution and Screening Panels Affidavit or Certificate of Merit Any of the following grounds of disability, existing at the time when a cause of action accrued or arising anytime during the period of limitation, shall suspend the running of the period of limitation until the same is removed; provided that such period, except in the case of infancy, shall not be extended for more than five years, nor in any case for more than one year after the disability ceases: (1) that the plaintiff is within the age of 18 years; (2) the plaintiff's insanity; (3) is an alien and the subject or citizen of a country at war with the United States; (4) when the beginning of the action is stayed by injunction or by statutory prohibition. If two or more disabilities shall coexist, the suspension shall continue until all are removed. (b) In actions alleging malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure, whether based on contract or tort, against a health care provider, the ground of disability specified in paragraph (a), clause (1), suspends the period of limitation until the disability is removed. The suspension may not be extended for more than seven years, or for more than one year after the disability ceases. Modified joint and several liability Defendants are proportionally liable according to percentage of fault for damages awarded, except when defendant is assessed greater than 50 percent of fault, two or more persons act in common scheme or plan that results in injury, or a person is proven to have committed an intentional tort. If, within one year of final judgment, the damages are uncollectible, then the court may reallocate the liability for the uncollected portion of the judgment based upon the other joint tortfeasors' relative degrees of fault If the fees for legal services provided to the plaintiff are based on a percentage of the amount of money awarded to the plaintiff, the percentage must be based on the amount of the award as adjusted under the collateral source rule. None provided. None provided. No statute provided specific to medical liability/malpractice cases The plaintiff must file an affidavit of expert review that states the facts of the case have been reviewed by the plaintiff's attorney with an expert whose qualifications provide a reasonable expectation that the expert's opinions could be admissible at trial and that, in the opinion of this expert, one or more defendants deviated from the applicable standard of care and by that action caused injury to the plaintiff.

5 Expert Witness Standards Medical or Peer Review Panels No statute provided specific to medical liability/malpractice cases et seq. Review organizations Statute of Limitations Medical Malpractice Medical Malpractice Injury Applicable Law: Minn. Stat. Section Time Period: Four years from the date the cause of action accrued. Medical Malpractice Death Applicable Law: Minn. Stat. Section Minn. Stat. Section Time Period: Three years from the date the cause of action accrued.

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