Compared with other injury-related legal claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking. That's true in every state, and Ohio is no exception. Legal issues and medical evidence can get very complicated very quickly in these cases, and the plaintiff (the injured patient, or his or her legal representative) needs to understand the special procedural rules and compensation limits that come into play. In this article, we'll look at some key Ohio 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 after you have suffered some type of loss or injury. Like most states, Ohio has a dedicated statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. The law, at Ohio Revised Code section 2305.113, says that prospective plaintiffs must get their lawsuits filed in the state's civil court system within one year after the the underlying medical error occurred.
Ohio courts have held that this one-year period starts when you discover the injury (or reasonably should have discovered it) or when your doctor-patient (or provider-patient) relationship has ended, whichever occurs later. No matter when either happens, however, section 2305.113 sets an outside four-year deadline for filing medical malpractice lawsuits.
There are exceptions to the strict one-year/four-year deadline in section 2305.113.
First, if you could not have discovered the injury ("in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence") within three years after it happened, but you ultimately learn about it before the end of the four-year period, you may file the lawsuit within one year after your discovery.
Second, even if the four-year period has gone by, you may file a medical malpractice lawsuit within a year after you discover (or reasonably should have discovered) that a foreign object was left in your body during a medical procedure.
Third, the one-year deadline may be extended by nearly six months if you send a formal notice (by certified mail) letting the prospective defendants know that you intend to sue them for medical malpractice. The defendant must receive the notice before the expiration of the one-year deadline, but then you have 180 days to file the lawsuit. So you could technically give the defendant notice on day 364 of the 365-day deadline, and buy yourself around six more months to actually get the complaint filed in court.
(You can find section 2305.113, along with the other Ohio law discussed below, at the Library of Congress Guide to Law Online.)
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.
Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 10(D)(2) says that any medical malpractice lawsuit filed in the state's courts must be accompanied by an "Affidavit of Merit" from an expert witness (usually a doctor or other licensed health care professional) who declares under oath that the expert:
A medical malpractice complaint that is unaccompanied by an Affidavit of Merit is subject to dismissal. However, the court is less likely to dismiss a lawsuit filed with an affidavit that does not meet all of the requirements of Rule 10(d)(2). Also, plaintiffs who need more time to get the affidavit together may request an extension to file it.
Like lawmakers in a lot of states, the Ohio legislature has passed a statute that places a limit or "cap" on the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a plaintiff who has been successful in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In other words, even after a jury holds a defendant liable for malpractice, this law kicks in to cap the actual amount that the plaintiff will end up getting.
First, it's important to understand the two main types of damages in medical malpractice cases: economic and noneconomic.
Economic damages include payment of past and future medical care, reimbursement of lost income, compensation for lost earning capacity, and other financial losses stemming from the malpractice.
Noneconomic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life that result from the defendant's medical malpractice. Noneconomic damages are often described as more "subjective" because they tend to vary from plaintiff to plaintiff, and they're not so easy to capture with a dollar amount.
Ohio's medical malpractice damages cap applies only to noneconomic damages. Under Ohio Revised Code section 2323.43, noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case may not exceed the greater of $250,000 or three times the plaintiff's economic damages—with an overall maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff (or a total of $500,000 in any case where there is more than one plaintiff).
The cap will be bumped up to $500,000 per plaintiff or $1 million per case if the malpractice caused certain permanent and/or catastrophic injuries.
If you're looking for more specifics on Ohio'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.