A medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking, especially when compared with other injury-related legal claims. That's true in every state, Alaska included. And that's not just because legal issues and medical evidence can get very complicated very quickly in these kinds of cases. It's also because a medical malpractice plaintiff (that's the injured patient, or the patient's legal representative) needs to comply with a number of procedural rules and proof requirements, and even a winning lawsuit is subject to strict compensation limits. In this article, we'll look at a few key state laws that a Alaska medical malpractice plaintiff needs to understand.
Like a number of other states, Alaska has a broad statute of limitations that applies to medical malpractice lawsuits as well as to standard personal injury claims. But first things first, in case your legalese is rusty: A "statute of limitations" limits a prospective plaintiff's right to file a lawsuit after suffering some kind of harm. Basically, these laws set a deadline for when the case must get started—when the initial complaint must be filed in civil court, in other words.
So, what does the law say in Alaska? The standard statute of limitations as it applies to a medical malpractice lawsuit gives you two years to get your lawsuit filed, starting from the date the harm was inflicted. That typically means two years from when the alleged medical error occurred, but in some cases it can mean two years from the date on which you discover—or could reasonably have been expected to discover—that you were harmed by medical malpractice.
Of course, if you are relying on this so called "discovery" exception to the statute of limitations in Alaska, 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.
In addition, under what's called a "statute of repose," Alaska law says that no medical malpractice lawsuit may be filed more than ten years after the date of the underlying medical error. That means that even if you didn't know—and couldn't have known—about the injury until more than ten years after the alleged malpractice, you're still barred from filing a lawsuit once those ten years are up. There is an exception for cases based on a foreign object (such as a surgical sponge) left in the patient's body. In that situation, the "clock" is paused until the object is discovered.
If you try to file the case after the deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly throw it out. In a malpractice case, usually what happens is the doctor or health care entity you are trying to sue points out that the statutory deadline has passed, they file a motion to dismiss the case, the court grants it, and that's the end of the story. So, it's crucial to pay attention to the medical malpractice statute of limitations deadline as it applies to your case.
According to Alaska Statutes section 09.55.540, in proving the case against the health care provider, an Alaska medical malpractice plaintiff will need to establish some complex elements, including:
Like the majority of states in the U.S., Alaska has passed laws that limit or "cap" the amount of compensation a medical malpractice plaintiff can receive after a successful lawsuit—one in which the defendant (the plaintiff's doctor or other care provider) has been found liable for medical negligence, after a civil trial.
It's important to note at the outset that Alaska's cap on medical malpractice damages doesn't apply to your economic losses stemming from the malpractice. So, you can get compensation for your past and future medical care, your lost income to date, and any measurable reduction on your ability to work and earn a living in the future due to the malpractice (as well as any other damages that can be captured by a dollar amount).
So, when do these damage caps apply? In Alaska, there is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case. The cap bumps up to $400,000 for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death or "severe permanent physical impairment" that is over 70 percent debilitating.
These caps are spelled out at Alaska Statutes section 09.55.549.
Your next question is probably, "What are non-economic damages?" They include compensation for a medical malpractice plaintiff's pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and other negative effects of their injuries and of any additional medical treatment made necessary by the defendant's malpractice.
If you're looking for more specifics on Alaska's medical malpractice laws and how they apply to your potential case, it might be time to discuss your situation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.