What is the Alabama statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit?

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Question:

What is the Alabama statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit?

Answer:

First, for the uninitiated, a “statute of limitations” is a law that can have a serious impact on your right to file a lawsuit in your state’s civil court system. Specifically, this kind of law puts a limit on the amount of time you have to get your case started, by filing the initial complaint and summons in court. There are different deadlines for different kinds of cases.

Like a lot of states, Alabama has a separate statute of limitations that applies specifically to medical malpractice cases. The standard deadline is set by Code of Alabama section 6-5-482, which gives you two years to get your lawsuit filed in the state’s court system, starting from the date on which the alleged malpractice was committed.    

But another component of this Alabama law could extend the filing deadline beyond two years. The statute goes on to say that “if the cause of action is not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered” within the two-year window, “then the action may be commenced within six months from the date of such discovery or the date of discovery of facts which would reasonably lead to such discovery, whichever is earlier.”

Keep in mind that if you are relying on this six-month rule, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover -- and could not have reasonably discovered -- the existence of the claim within the two-year time limit.

Finally, despite this “discovery” exception, in Alabama there is a larger filing deadline -- known as a “statute of repose” -- which requires that a medical malpractice be filed no more than four years after the date on which the underlying medical error was committed, regardless of when the existence of the claim was discovered.

So, what If the statute of limitations deadline has passed and you try to file the lawsuit anyway? You can count on the defendant -- that’s the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue -- asking the court to dismiss the case. And if the court grants that request (as it almost certainly will), that’s the end of the lawsuit. So it’s crucial to pay attention to the Alabama statute of limitations as it applies to your medical malpractice case.  

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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