Oklahoma Medical Malpractice Laws

A look at the Oklahoma medical malpractice lawsuit filing deadline, and what the injured patient must prove in these lawsuits.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 7/20/2022

Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oklahoma, 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 substantial. In this article, we'll take a look at the Oklahoma statute of limitations deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits, what exactly plaintiffs need to prove in a medical medical malpractice cases, and the rules on damages in these kinds of cases.

The Oklahoma Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

If you are thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oklahoma, the first thing you need to be aware of is the statute of limitations. This is a state law that puts a strict limit on the amount of time you have to get your case started in the state's civil court system.

Now, what does the statute of limitations say? Oklahoma, like many states, has passed a statute of limitations that applies specifically to medical malpractice lawsuits. Oklahoma Statutes title 76, section 18 says "An action for damages for injury or death against any physician, health care provider or hospital licensed under the laws of this state . . . shall be brought within two years of the date the plaintiff knew or should have known, through the exercise of reasonable diligence," of the existence of the case.

Keep in mind that if you did not discover right away that a medical error was committed, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you couldn't have discovered it even through the "exercise of reasonable diligence."

Having read all of this, you might be wondering what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after Oklahoma's statute of limitations deadline has already passed. In that situation, it's a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue will file a legal motion asking the court to dismiss the case, the court will grant the request, and that will be the end of your lawsuit. So, it's easy to see why it's important to pay attention to the statute of limitations as it applies to your specific situation.

The "Affidavit of Merit" Requirement in Oklahoma Medical Malpractice Claims Ruled Unconstitutional

Many states, including Oklahoma, have laws on the books that require the plaintiff to use an expert witness's testimony to establish negligence, often in a document called an "affidavit of merit." However, in 2017, the state's highest ruled that the law was unconstitutional, meaning that affidavits of merit are no longer required in Oklahoma medical malpractice cases. (John v. Saint Francis Hospital, Inc., 405 P.3d 681 (2017).)

Proving Medical Malpractice in Oklahoma

There is no Oklahoma statute that spells out exactly what injured patients must prove in their medical malpractice lawsuits. But the state's courts have held that, typically, the plaintiff must:

  • establish the existence of a provider-patient relationship
  • set out the appropriate medical standard of care for the circumstances in which the patient was being treated (roughly, that means the skill and attention that a similarly trained health care provider would have acted with in treating the patient)
  • show the ways in which the provider fell below the applicable standard of care when treating the patient, and
  • prove that the provider's negligence caused harm to the patient.

The most important issues in these cases typically revolve around the standard of care and how it was breached. And you'll almost certainly need the testimony of an expert medical witness to prove these elements.

Oklahoma's Medical Malpractice Damages Cap Also Ruled Unconstitutional

Like a number of states, Oklahoma has 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 where 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.

Under Oklahoma Statutes section 23-61.2, the law caps noneconomic damages—compensation for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life that result from the defendant's medical malpractice—at $350,000 in all civil cases seeking compensation for bodily injury. However, in 2019, the Oklahoma ruled that these caps are unconstitutional, meaning they can no longer be applied. (Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Inc., 441 P.3d 1107 (2019).)

Note that economic damages were never subject to the state's damages cap. Economic damages typically consist of payment of past and future medical care, reimbursement of lost income, compensation for lost earning capacity, and other financial losses that can be attributed to the malpractice.

This article provides a brief summary of some of the Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.

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