A medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a pretty complex undertaking in any state, Massachusetts included. For one thing, the legal and medical issues common to these cases are notoriously complicated. On top of that, injured patients need to be aware of special court rules that are unique to these kinds of lawsuits.
In this article, we'll look at:
A statute of limitations sets a time limit on your right to file your case in the state's court system.
Like most states, Massachusetts has a specific statute of limitations that applies to medical malpractice lawsuits, and it can be found at Massachusetts General Laws chapter 260, section 4. The law gives an injured patient three years to get the lawsuit process started.
Usually, the three-year time frame is measured from the date that patient suffered harm as a result of the alleged medical malpractice. But under what's known as the "discovery rule," Massachusetts courts have held that the "clock" doesn't start running until:
Also, the state's highest court has held that the three-year limitations period doesn't start while the patient is receiving ongoing care from the defendant medical provider, as long as the patient doesn't actually know about the medical error and its role in harming the patient.
Despite the "discovery" rule and the continuing-treatment exceptions discussed above, Massachusetts also has a "statute of repose" for medical malpractice lawsuits. This law sets an overarching filing deadline for medical malpractice cases, declaring that they can't be filed more than seven years after the alleged medical error occurred:
The only exception to this seven-year deadline is for cases where a foreign object (like a surgical sponge or instrument) is left in the body after an invasive procedure. Although the three-year basic deadline applies in those kinds of cases, there is no outside deadline that overrides the discovery rule or the continuing-treatment exception.
If you wait too long to get your medical malpractice case started—in other words, you try to file the initial complaint after the time limit set by the law has passed—the court will probably throw your case out. In a malpractice case, that usually happens after the doctor or health care entity you are trying to sue points out that the filing deadline has passed, and they file a motion to dismiss the case.
Learn more about the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases.
Whenever a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed in the state, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231, section 60B says that, within 15 days after the defendant health care provider has filed its response to the lawsuit, the plaintiff (or the plaintiff's attorney) must present an "offer of proof" to a special three-personal tribunal made up of:
This tribunal is charged with determining whether the plaintiff's evidence is enough to raise a "legitimate question" of whether the defendant health care provider was negligent in providing medical care to the plaintiff. In making this determination, the tribunal will consider all relevant medical records, treatment notes, test results, and statements from qualified medical experts.
If the tribunal finds sufficient evidence to raise a legitimate question of liability, the case proceeds to court like any other civil lawsuit.
But if the tribunal finds that the plaintiff hasn't met the burden of establishing "substantial evidence" of liability, the lawsuit can only proceed if the plaintiff files a $6,000 bond with the clerk of the court, to cover the defendant's legal fees and court costs if the plaintiff's suit is not successful. (Note: The court is free to increase the amount of the bond). And if the bond isn't posted within 30 days of the tribunal's decision, the plaintiff's medical malpractice lawsuit will be dismissed.
Like dozens of other states, Massachusetts has a law on the books that limits or "caps" certain types of medical malpractice damages (compensation, in other words) available to a plaintiff who has been successful in their lawsuit. Specifically, Massachusetts caps noneconomic damages at $500,000 in medical malpractice cases. There are exceptions to this cap, which we'll cover later.
Noneconomic damages include compensation for the injured patient's:
Unlike economic damages (like the cost of medical care and lost income), which are uncapped in Massachusetts, noneconomic damages aren't easy to capture with a dollar figure.
Learn more about medical malpractice damages.
The Massachusetts cap on noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case will not apply if:
If you're looking for more specifics on Massachusetts'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.
A medical malpractice lawsuit isn't the kind of legal action you want to try taking on your own. The complexity of these cases on all fronts, combined with the level of fight you can expect from the health care provider you're trying to sue (and their malpractice insurance company) make medical malpractice lawsuits uniquely challenging.
Putting your case in the hands of an experienced legal professional is often a must if you want to guarantee the best result. Learn more about hiring and working with a medical malpractice lawyer. You can also use the tools on this page to connect with a lawyer in your area.