If you're thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington D.C., be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Medical records need to be sifted through, expert witness testimony (for both sides) is often essential, and the injured patient needs to comply with a number of procedural requirements right at the outset. In this article, we'll take a look at Washington D.C.'s "Notice of Intention to File" a medical malpractice lawsuit, the statute of limitations filing deadline for these kinds of cases, and more.
A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit after suffering some kind of harm. The District of Columbia, like a number of jurisdictions in the U.S., has a broad statute of limitations that applies to many kinds of injury-related civil lawsuits, including medical malpractice lawsuits.
D.C. Code section 12-301 gives you three years to get your lawsuit filed, starting "from the time the right to maintain the action accrues." In most medical malpractice cases, that typically means three years from the date when the alleged medical error occurred, but in some cases it can mean three years from the date on which you discover -- or could reasonably have been expected to discover -- that you were harmed by medical malpractice.
The main exceptions to D.C.'s strict three-year deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit come into play when the prospective plaintiff is a minor (under 18 years of age), has been declared mentally incompetent, or is in prison. In those situations, the statute of limitations is usually "tolled" (meaning the "clock" doesn't run) until the plaintiff's status changes -- meaning he or she turns 18, is declared mentally competent, or is released from incarceration.
What if you try to file your medical malpractice case after the deadline has passed? Chances are the doctor or health care entity you are trying to sue will point out that the statutory deadline has passed, they will file a motion to dismiss the case, and the court will grant that motion. You'll end up losing your right to ask the court for any civil remedy for the defendant's wrongdoing and the harm it caused you. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the medical malpractice statute of limitations.
An injured patient who wants to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in D.C. must usually notify the prospective defendant health care provider at least 90 days before filing the case in the district's courts, according to D.C. Code section 16-2802.
This notice of intent must include sufficient details to effectively put the defendant health care provider on notice of the legal basis for the injured patient's claim, including the type and extent of the harm allegedly suffered by the patient as a result of the malpractice.
The notice can be sent to ("served on") the potential defendant at the last address listed with a district licensing authority (such as the D.C. Department of Health).
If the patient is unable to comply with the 90-day deadline, and a "good faith" effort is made to give requisite notice, the court may forgive a delay.
Finally, if the notice is served within 90 days of the expiration of the statute of limitations deadline (as discussed in the previous section), the lawsuit filing deadline will be extended 90 days from the date on which the notice was served on the provider (that's according to D.C. Code section 16-2803).
A number of states have passed laws that "cap" the amount of compensation ("damages") that a successful plaintiff can receive even after prevailing in a lawsuit against a health care provider.
Washington D.C. has no such law on the books, so an injured patient doesn't need to worry about any statutory limit on his or her medical malpractice damages.
This article provides a brief summary of some of the D.C. laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the district's laws will affect your situation, an experienced Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.