Arkansas Medical Malpractice Laws

A look at the Arkansas medical malpractice statute of limitations, what the injured patient must prove in order to prevail, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Arkansas, be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Volumes of medical records need to be sifted through and analyzed, and expert witness testimony (for both sides) is often essential. In this article, we'll take a look at the Arkansas statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits, and what the injured patient (the "plaintiff") usually needs to prove.

Arkansas Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

First, as a quick refresher for those who aren't fluent in "legalese," a statute of limitations is a law that puts a firm limit on how much time can pass before you must file a lawsuit over some type of injury or loss.

The Arkansas statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit can be found at Arkansas Code section 16-114-203, which gives a prospective medical malpractice patient two years to file their lawsuit. But when does the "clock" start running? The Arkansas statute specifically says that the "date of the accrual of the cause of action"—meaning the start of the two-year period—"shall be the date of the wrongful act complained of and no other time."

So, you have very little leeway in Arkansas to "discover" that you were harmed by malpractice beyond the date on which the underlying medical error was committed. But there is a key exception to this strict two-year deadline.

In Arkansas, "where the action is based upon the discovery of a foreign object in the body"—such as a medical instrument or sponge—and that object "is not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered" within the two-year period, the lawsuit may be filed within one year from the date when the object is or should reasonably should have been discovered, whichever is earlier.

What happens if you try to file the lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed? You can bet that the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case, the court will almost certainly grant the request, and that will be the end of your lawsuit.

That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the medical malpractice statute of limitations.

Proving Medical Malpractice in Arkansas

In an Arkansas medical malpractice lawsuit, unless the defendant health care provider's error "lies within the jury's comprehension as a matter of common knowledge," the injured patient will likely need to have a qualified expert medical witness testify as to the provider's liability, according to Arkansas Code section 16-114-206.

A mistake that "lies within the jury's comprehension as a matter of common knowledge" typically is one that the jury can identify without having to rely on any special knowledge or experience (operating on the wrong body part is one example).

Any expert medical testimony must usually come from a medical professional who can provide his or her opinion on:

  • the medical standard of care that was appropriate under the circumstances (including "the degree of skill and learning ordinarily possessed" by professionals in a similar practice and in the same locality)
  • how the defendant care provider failed to perform up to that standard when treating the patient, and
  • that as a "proximate result" of the sub-standard care, the plaintiff suffered harm that would not otherwise have occurred.

No Medical Malpractice Damages Cap In Arkansas

A number of states have legislated a "cap" on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. The controversial impact of laws like this is that, even where a plaintiff establishes the defendant's liability for malpractice, there is a limit on the actual amount of damages the jury can award, regardless of the extent of the plaintiff's specific losses.

There is currently no cap on medical malpractice damages in Arkansas (including on compensation for things like pain and suffering), so an injured patient is free to recover for all financial losses that can be attributed to the defendant's malpractice.

This article provides a brief summary of some of the Arkansas laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the state's laws will affect your potential situation, an experienced Arkansas medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.

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