Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Minnesota, be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Strict procedural rules need to be obeyed, volumes of medical records need to be sifted through and analyzed, and the plaintiff's "burden of proof" is significant. In this article, we'll take a look at the Minnesota statute of limitations filing deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits, the state's "Certification of Expert Review" requirement for these kinds of cases, and more.
First, some background for readers who may not be fluent in the language of "legalese": A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. There are different deadlines for different kinds of cases.
Minnesota’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits can be found at Minnesota Statutes section 541.076. This law reads: "An action by a patient or former patient against a health care provider alleging malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure … must be commenced within four years from the date the cause of action accrued." Although the statute doesn't spell out when exactly that happens, the Minnesota Supreme Court has long held that a cause of action accrues— and the four-year time period begins—when there has been some injury or other damage as a result of an allegedly negligent medical error. (See MacRae v. Group Health Plan, Inc., 753 N.W.2d 711 (Minn. 2008).)
What if Minnesota’s four-year deadline has passed and you try to file the lawsuit anyway? It’s a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless an exception applies; we’ll discuss some of those below) and that will be the end of the lawsuit. So it’s crucial to pay attention to the statute of limitations as it applies to your case.
Now, what about those exceptions to the four-year-deadline? The most common exception (in Minnesota Statutes section 541.15) comes into play when the prospective plaintiff is under 18 years of age. In that case, the statute of limitations does not start to run until the plaintiff reaches the age of 18, except that the suspension of the deadline can’t be extended for more than seven years, or for more than one year after the person has reached 18.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing a potential medical malpractice plaintiff in Minnesota can be found at Minnesota Statutes section 145.682, which lays out the "Certification of Expert Review" requirement for these kinds of lawsuits.
This law says that, in any lawsuit "alleging malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure...against a health care provider" in which the testimony of a qualified medical expert will be required (the vast majority of medical malpractice lawsuits, in other words), the plaintiff's attorney (or the plaintiff, if not represented) must file with the court an affidavit stating that:
This affidavit must be filed alongside the initial complaint (the document that sets out the details of the plaintiff's claims against the defendant health care provider). If the plaintiff can't get the required expert consultation in time, the affidavit filed with the complaint may simply state that it was not reasonably possible to obtain the expert review and opinion because of the statute of limitations. In that situation, the plaintiff must then serve the defendant with the certification of expert review within 90 days after filing the lawsuit.
After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff also must typically put together an affidavit that identifies each medical expert the plaintiff is planning to use, lays out the expected substance of each expert witness's testimony, and summarizes the basis for each expert's opinion. This second affidavit must usually be served on each defendant health care provider within 180 days of the start of the "discovery" period (in which the sides of the case exchange information and evidence).
Failure to prepare and file proper "Certification of Expert Review" and "Identification of Expert" affidavits will almost certainly result in the dismissal of your medical malpractice lawsuit.
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 when 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 Minnesota (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 Minnesota 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 Minnesota medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.