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 a medical malpractice lawsuit, and it says that a prospective plaintiff must get their lawsuit filed in the state’s civil court system one year from the date on which the underlying medical error occurred.
You can find this law -- and a few exceptions that we’ll discuss below -- at Ohio Revised Code section 2305.113.
Now, onto those exceptions to the strict one-year deadline...
First, if the claimant "in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence, could not have discovered the injury" right away, they may file the lawsuit within one year of the date on which that discovery is actually made, as long as no more than four years have passed since the underlying medical error occurred.
Second, the one-year deadline can be extended by as much as about six months in Ohio if you send a formal notice to the prospective defendant, letting them know that you intend to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against them. Specifically, the law says that such a notice must be sent before the one-year deadline passes, but once that notice is given, you have 180 days to get the case filed. 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.
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.
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."
In this filing, the "affiant" (the person stating his/her opinion, usually a doctor or other licensed health care professional) must declare under oath that he or she:
A medical malpractice complaint that is unaccompanied by an Affidavit of Merit is subject to dismissal, although when an Affidavit is filed but it does not comply with the requirements of Rule 10(d)(2), the court is less likely to dismiss the complaint. And if a plaintiff needs more time to get a compliant Affidavit together, it's possible to get an extension to file.
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 non-economic.
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.
Non-economic 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. Non-economic 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 non-economic damages. So, what does the law say? Under Ohio Revised Code section 2323.43, non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case can’t exceed the greater of $250,000 or three times the plaintiff's economic damages -- with an overall maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 for each case (if 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.