Compared with other injury-related legal claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking. That's true in every state, and Mississippi is no exception. Legal issues and medical evidence can get very complicated very quickly in a medical malpractice case, and the plaintiff (the injured patient, or a legal representative) needs to comply with a number of procedural rules dictated by state laws. In this article, we'll look at some of the key Mississippi laws that a medical malpractice plaintiff needs to understand.
A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after you have suffered some type of loss or injury. Like most states, Mississippi has a dedicated statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Mississippi Code section 15-1-36 specifies that an injured patient must file a medical malpractice claim within two years of the date on which the health care provider committed the alleged malpractice, or the date on which, with "reasonable diligence," the malpractice "might have been first known or discovered."
Keep in mind that if you are relying on this "discovery rule," as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover right away that the malpractice occurred, and that you could not have reasonably discovered the malpractice until you actually did.
There is a larger catch-all filing deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits in Mississippi, which says that this kind of case cannot be filed "more than seven years after the alleged act, omission or neglect occurred." This is known as a "statute of repose," and it means that no lawsuit can be filed if more than seven years have passed since the malpractice occurred, regardless of whether the patient had a reasonable opportunity to discover that he or she was harmed by it. The only exceptions to this larger seven-year deadline are cases where a foreign object was left in a surgical patient, or when the malpractice was concealed through the defendant's fraud. In those situations, the two-year "clock" starts running once the occurrence of the medical error would have been discovered with reasonable diligence.
Now, what happens if the medical malpractice statute of limitations deadline has passed, and you try to file your lawsuit anyway? It's a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court will grant the request. If that happens, that will be the end of your lawsuit.
According to Mississippi Code section 15-1-36, a potential medical malpractice plaintiff must give the defendant health care provider written notice of their intention to file the lawsuit. While the law doesn't prescribe a particular format for the notice, it must explain the legal basis for the claim and describe the specific nature of the patient's injuries. The notice must be sent to the health care provider at least 60 days before the filing of the lawsuit.
In addition, almost all medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Mississippi must be accompanied by a certificate in which the plaintiff's attorney swears under oath that:
There are a few alternatives to filing the certificate, spelled out at Mississippi Code section 11-1-58, and a certificate isn't required for certain types of cases, including those in which the health care provider's negligence is said to "speak for itself," and those based on the lack of the patient's informed consent. But failure to file a required certificate could result in the dismissal of your medical malpractice lawsuit.
Like a lot of states, Mississippi caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, effectively limiting the amount of money that a successful plaintiff can receive even after a jury has found the defendant liable for medical malpractice.
Mississippi's cap for noneconomic damages is set at $500,000, and you can find this law codified at Mississippi Code section 11-1-60.
It's important to understand the different kinds of medical malpractice damages, and the kinds of compensation that this law does and does not affect.
Noneconomic damages are those that are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the negative effects of the malpractice that aren't so easily calculable, and at the same time are more subjective from plaintiff to plaintiff. They include compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and similar losses caused by the defendant's malpractice. These are the kinds of losses that are subject to Mississippi's medical malpractice damages cap.
Mississippi's cap on medical malpractice damages does not apply to economic damages, which include payment of past medical bills, prospective payment for future medical care, reimbursement of lost income, compensation for any limitations on the plaintiff's ability to earn a living because of the malpractice, and any other provable financial losses that can be tied to the malpractice and/or to the medical treatment that was made necessary by it.
If you're looking for more specifics on Mississippi's medical malpractice laws and how they apply to your potential case, it might be time to discuss your situation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.