Any medical malpractice lawsuit is a complicated undertaking, especially compared with other injury-related legal claims. That's true in every state, Maine 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. In this article, we'll look at a few key Maine 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.
Like lawmakers in a lot of states, Maine legislators have passed a statute of limitations that specifically covers medical malpractice lawsuits, and it can be found at Maine Revised Statutes Title 24 section 2902, which says that a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within three years "after the cause of action accrues," which simply means three years from the date on which the underlying medical error was allegedly committed by the defendant doctor or health care facility.
There is a special rule for Maine medical malpractice cases that arise from the leaving of a "foreign object" in the body of a patient. In those cases, the cause of action "accrues" when the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered the harm. So, once you know about (or should have been on notice of) the presence of the foreign object, the three year clock starts running. Maine's statute makes clear that for the purposes of this exception, a "foreign object" is not something that was intentionally implanted in the body. So the exception would not apply to a prosthetic device, but it would come into play if a sponge or surgical instrument was accidentally left inside the patient.
Maine has also enacted a special statute of limitations timeline for medical malpractice cases filed by (or on behalf of) a patient who was a minor at the time the malpractice occurred. The relevant part of the statute says that these cases must be filed "within 6 years after the cause of action accrues or within 3 years after the minor reaches the age of majority, whichever first occurs."
In order to begin his or her court case, a Maine medical malpractice plaintiff must prepare and file a "notice of claim," describing under oath "the professional negligence alleged and the nature and circumstances of the injuries and damages alleged"—in other words, details on what the health care provider did wrong, and how the patient was injured.
A separate notice is required for each health care provider being sued, and the notice must be accompanied by a $200 filing fee (though the fee may be waived in certain circumstances). For more details, check out Maine Revised Statutes Title 24, section 2853.
Maine utilizes "prelitigation" (pre-lawsuit) screening of potential medical malpractice lawsuits in order to "identify claims of professional negligence which merit compensation" and "to encourage early withdrawal or dismissal of nonmeritorious claims," according to Maine Revised Statutes Title 24, section 2851.
Soon after the plaintiff files his or her notice of claim, and the health care provider has responded to it, a screening panel is compiled (under a pretty complex process set out at Maine Revised Statutes Title 24, section 2852).
The parties then decide on a timetable for providing the panel with all relevant medical records and other evidence, and for exchanging all necessary information with one another, for review and evaluation.
Next, the panel reviews all evidence and hears testimony from the parties and their medical experts.
Then, within 30 days, the panel issues an opinion on the viability of the patient's case. This opinion remains confidential unless the panel decides unanimously in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant. In those situations, the panel's findings become admissible in court—in other words, the jury will be permitted to consider the panel's decision in making its own decision on whether malpractice was committed. (Maine Revised Statutes Title 24, section 2857.)
One final note: Under Maine Revised Statutes Title 24, section 2859, the statute of limitations "clock" is paused on the day the notice of claim is filed, until 30 days following the prelitigation panel's opinion.
In Maine, there is no law on the books that specifically limits or caps damages in a medical malpractice case—meaning compensation that is available to a plaintiff after a successful lawsuit in court. But there is a Maine law that caps noneconomic damages for any personal injury case involving allegations of wrongful death. In those cases, damages are capped at $750,000 for "the loss of comfort, society and companionship of the deceased, including any damages for emotional distress." However, Maine law does not cap economic damages, such as compensation for the costs of the deceased person's medical care.
So, for a medical malpractice case where the plaintiff(s) is alleging that the defendant's medical negligence caused a patient's death, even where the plaintiff ends up winning the lawsuit, any award for the noneconomic losses listed above will not be able to exceed $750,000 in accord with Maine law. You can find this rule codified at Maine Revised Statutes Title 18-C section 2-807.
If you're looking for more specifics on Maine'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.