A medical malpractice lawsuit is a complicated endeavor, especially when compared with other injury-related legal claims. That's true in every state, Idaho included. It's not just because legal issues and medical evidence can get very complex 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 strict procedural rules right at the outset of the case, and get familiar with state laws that limit a plaintiff's compensation. In this article, we'll look at a few key Idaho medical malpractice laws.
A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you try to file your lawsuit after the medical malpractice 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. If the court grants the request (which it almost certainly will), that's the end of your lawsuit.
The standard Idaho statute of limitations as it applies to a medical malpractice lawsuit can be found at Idaho Statutes section 5-219, and it gives you two years to get your lawsuit filed. In most cases, the cause of action "accrues" in Idaho (meaning the clock starts running for purposes of the deadline) "as of the time of the occurrence, act or omission complained of" -- the date on which the alleged medical error was committed, in other words.
But Idaho also recognizes a number of exceptions to the two-year time limit. Two of the most common situations are those 1) involving "the placement and inadvertent, accidental or unintentional leaving of any foreign object" -- such as a surgical sponge or instrument -- in the body of the patient, and 2) where the patient's injury has been "fraudulently and knowingly concealed" by the defendant "for the purpose of escaping responsibility."
In those two scenarios, the statute of limitations "clock" doesn’t start running until "the injured party knows or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been put on inquiry" that he or she was injured as a result of malpractice. Once that discovery is made (or once it should have been made in the eyes of the law), it signals the start of the two-year time period during which the lawsuit must be filed.
Before an injured patient can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against an Idaho-licensed doctor or surgeon -- or against a "licensed acute care general hospital" operating in the state, the patient's claim must be submitted to a hearing panel compiled by the Idaho Board of Medicine. This procedure, known as "preligitation screening," is mandated by Idaho Statutes section 6-1001.
The panel's decision is not binding, but submission to the process is considered a prerequisite to filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Idaho's civil court system.
The process typically looks like this: The panel gathers evidence, reviews records, and hears from witnesses. Next, the panel provides the parties with its observations regarding the patient's claims, including its findings on whether the claim appears to be meritorious (or frivolous).
If the panel finds that the claim has merit, and if the members unanimously agree on the amount of compensation that is appropriate to award to the injured patient, the panel may advise on an appropriate settlement amount (but keep in mind that this is a non-binding proposal).
A few final notes on this process: If the panel is unable to reach a decision after more than 90 days, it must conclude the proceedings, unless the parties agree to an extension of the proceedings for an additional 30 days (according to Idaho Statutes 6-1011).
In Idaho, there is no law on the books that specifically limits or caps damages in a medical malpractice case, but Idaho is one of the few states that sets a cap on certain kinds of damages in all "tort" or personal injury cases, which includes those stemming from medical malpractice.
Idaho Code section 6-1603 puts a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in personal injury cases. By law, this $250,000 cap is a variable one; it increases or decreases along with the Idaho Industrial Commission’s adjustment of the "annual living wage" in accord with Idaho Code section 72-409(2).
So, what are non-economic damages? They’re the kinds of losses that are more subjective to the plaintiff (the person who was injured), and they’re not very easy to quantify with a dollar amount. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, anxiety, discomfort, lost enjoyment, lost companionship, and other negative effects of the accident, injuries, and medical treatment.
It's very important to note that Idaho’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damages does not apply to the other main category of compensation available to a medical malpractice plaintiff: economic damages. Those include medical expenses (past and future), lost income, lost or decreased ability to earn a living in the future, and any other losses that can be captured with a dollar figure. There is no cap on economic damages in Idaho medical malpractice cases (or in standard personal injury cases in Idaho, for that matter.)
If you're looking for more specifics on Idaho's medical malpractice laws and how they apply to your potential case, it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.