South Dakota Medical Malpractice Laws

South Dakota medical malpractice plaintiffs should get familiar with the lawsuit filing deadline and the compensation limits set by state law.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

A medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking, especially when compared with other injury-related legal claims. That's true in every state, South Dakota included. It's not just because legal issues and medical evidence can get very complicated very quickly in these kinds of cases. It's also because a medical malpractice plaintiff (that's the injured patient, or the patient's legal representative) needs to comply with a number of procedural rules and proof requirements, and even a winning lawsuit is subject to strict compensation limits. In this article, we'll look at a few key state laws that a South Dakota medical malpractice plaintiff needs to understand.

South Dakota's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

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. There are different deadlines from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and depending on the kind of lawsuit you want to file.

Like lawmakers in a lot of states, South Dakota legislators have passed a statute of limitations that specifically covers medical malpractice lawsuits, and it can be found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-14.1, which says: "An action against a physician, surgeon, dentist, hospital, sanitarium, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, chiropractor, or other practitioner of the healing arts for malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure, whether based upon contract or tort, can be commenced only within two years after the alleged malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure shall have occurred."

As the law says, the "clock" on South Dakota's two-year deadline starts running on the date on which the defendant's alleged medical error was actually committed. But what if you did not discover right away that you were harmed, or you didn't know of the link between your injury and the defendant's wrongdoing? Most states apply some version of the "discovery rule" to medical malpractice cases, but South Dakota does not. Although the specifics of the discovery rule differ from state to state, it typically extends the statute of limitations for patients who didn't know about—and couldn't have known about—the malpractice soon after it happened. But the Supreme Court of South Dakota has held that the filing-deadline clock always begins to run on the date the medical error occurred—not the date the patient discovered the malpractice. (Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Medical Center, 2016 S.D. 33 (2016).) In other words, even if you couldn't have known about your injuries within two years after the date the malpractice occurred, South Dakota law would still prevent you from filing the lawsuit once the two-year time limit expires.

If you try to file your lawsuit after the medical malpractice statute of limitations deadline has passed, you can bet that the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case. If the court grants the request (which it almost certainly will), that is the end of your lawsuit. So it's crucial to pay attention to the deadline (and make your best argument as to why it should be extended).

Proving Medical Malpractice

A South Dakota medical malpractice plaintiff will need to establish complex elements such as:

  • the appropriate "medical standard of care" under the treatment circumstances
  • how the health care provider deviated from that standard when treating the plaintiff (these first two elements will almost always require the testimony of a qualified expert witness), and
  • the nature and extent of all of the patient's damages stemming from the health care provider's error -- which brings us to our next key South Dakota medical malpractice law...

The South Dakota Medical Malpractice Damages Cap

South Dakota, like a lot of states, has a law on the books that places a limit or "cap" on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. The effect of laws like this is that, even after a plaintiff proves that the defendant committed malpractice—and the jury reaches the same conclusion—this law limits the actual amount of damages that the plaintiff can be awarded.

In South Dakota, non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases are capped at $500,000, according to South Dakota Codified Laws section 21-3-11. This includes cases against almost any kind of health care provider you can think of, including physicians, chiropractors, optometrists, dentists, hospitals, registered nurses, physicians' assistants, and corporate employers.

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.

Non-economic 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, stress and anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring and disfigurement, and similar losses caused by the defendant's malpractice. These are the kinds of losses that are subject to South Dakota's medical malpractice damages cap.

South Dakota's cap on medical malpractice damages does not apply to economic damages, which can 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 South Dakota'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.

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