What is Oregon’s statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit?

Question:

What is Oregon’s statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit?

Answer:

First things first, for those who aren’t fluent in legalese: A “statute of limitations” is a state law that puts a strict time limit on your right to go to court and get a lawsuit started. There are usually different deadlines depending on the case you want to file, and the time limit is always expressed in years. The “clock” usually starts running on the date you were harmed or suffered whatever loss you’re asking the court to remedy.

If the deadline set by the statute has passed, but you try to file the lawsuit anyway, the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court will almost certainly grant the motion.

Like a lot of states, Oregon has a specific statute of limitations that prospective plaintiffs need to abide by if they want to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in the state’s court system.

Oregon’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits can be found at Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.110, and it states that “An action to recover damages for injuries to the person arising from any medical, surgical or dental treatment, omission or operation shall be commenced within two years from the date when the injury is first discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered.”

In other words, you need to file the lawsuit within two years of the date on which you were actually harmed by -- or should have known you were harmed by -- the defendant’s medical error.

There is also an overarching deadline in Oregon that says “every such action shall be commenced within five years from the date of the treatment, omission or operation upon which the action is based.” So, once five years have passed your right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is lost in Oregon, even if you couldn’t have known you were harmed by malpractice during all that time.

One exception to Oregon’s broad five-year deadline is situations where the defendant has used "fraud, deceit or misleading representation" to hide the malpractice. In that situation, once the fraud or deceit is discovered (along with the existence of the claim), the ”clock” starts running on the standard two-year deadline.       

Finally, if the injured patient is under the age of 18 or "has a disabling mental condition that bars the person from comprehending rights that the person is otherwise bound to know" at the time the underlying malpractice was committed, the running of the statute of limitations "clock" is paused (or "tolled") for up to five years, or for one year after the person turns 18 or the mental disability ends, whichever occurs first. These exceptions are detailed in Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.160.    

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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