A medical malpractice lawsuit is a complicated endeavor, especially when compared with other injury-related legal claims. That's true in every state, Wyoming included. It's not just because legal issues and medical evidence can get very complex 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 strict procedural rules right at the outset of the case. In this article, we'll look at two key Wyoming medical malpractice laws: the statute of limitations and the Wyoming Medical Review Panel claim requirement.
A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. 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's the end of your lawsuit.
Wyoming’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Wyoming Statutes section 1-3-107, and it gets a little complicated, so let's look at it one piece at a time.
The first part of the statute says that a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date on which the underlying medical error was committed.
Next, the statute goes on to say that, if the malpractice was "not reasonably discoverable" within those first two years, or if the plaintiff failed to discover it "despite the exercise of due diligence," then the case must be brought within two years of the date when the malpractice is actually discovered.
Finally, Wyoming's statute of limitations says that if the malpractice is not discovered until sometime during the second year of the two-year period, "the period for commencing a lawsuit shall be extended by six months." But keep in mind that if you are relying on any "discovery" portion of the statute, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover -- and you could not have reasonably discovered -- the malpractice or injury until you actually did.
Before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Wyoming's courts, in most instances you must first file a claim with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel. This requirement, which can be found at Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1518, is meant to discourage the filing of lawsuits "where the facts do not permit at least a reasonable inference of malpractice" and to encourage "fair and equitable disposition" of valid claims.
The claim process typically looks like this, according to Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1519:
First, the injured patient submits a written claim to the Panel, including:
All named health care providers must answer the patient's claim within 60 days. If not, the patient is free to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Wyoming's court system.
Within 60 days of the health care provider's answer, the patient must submit a signed statement from a qualified medical expert, in which the expert lays out the basis for his or her belief that malpractice has been committed.
The Medical Review Panel (typically consisting of two health care professionals, two attorneys, and one layperson) then conducts a hearing in order to consider evidence, hear from witnesses, and review documents.
Next, the panel issues a decision (by majority vote) as to whether there is:
While the Medical Review Panel's decision is not binding on the parties, if a lawsuit is filed, the court may admit aspects of the panel's proceedings into evidence, for the jury's consideration.
Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1518 says that a claim need not be filed with the Medical Review Panel if:
Unlike many states, Wyoming has not passed a law that limits (or "caps") damages in medical malpractice cases. So there is no statutory limit on the amount of money that a successful plaintiff can receive, after a jury has found the defendant health care provider(s) liable for medical malpractice.
If you're looking for more specifics on Wyoming'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.