What should Michigan patients know about medical malpractice claims?

For Michigan patients who suffer medical errors or other such negligence, understanding their rights may be vital in protecting their interests.

When people in Michigan and throughout the U.S. seek medical treatment, they generally expect the attending providers to be focused on their care and to act with their best interests in mind. Unfortunately, all too often, patients suffer injury, worsened conditions and even death due to the careless actions or negligence of those to whom they have entrusted their health and well-being. In fact, a study conducted by a group of patient safety experts with Johns Hopkins estimates that medical errors account for 250,000 fatalities across the country each year. Beyond the harm they suffer, patients in such situations may also suffer financial losses. Thus, it may benefit people to understand the elements involved in Michigan medical malpractice claims.

What is the statute of limitations?

Michigan law imposes a statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases. This specifies the maximum amount of time after a medical malpractice cause of action accrues in which a claimant may initiate legal action. After the expiration of the statute of limitations, the claimant is forever barred from pursuing a legal claim for damages.

A medical malpractice claim must be commenced by serving a Notice of Intent to File a Claim on all medical professionals and institutions that the claimant wishes to sue. Michigan law requires a mandatory 182-day waiting period after the Notice of Intent is filed before a formal Complaint (with accompanying affidavits of merit from qualifying medical experts) can be filed with the appropriate court.

Generally, the statute of limitations to initiate a medical malpractice claim is two years from the date of the negligent act or omission or six months from the date when the claimant discovered or should have discovered the existence of the claim, so long as the claim is brought within six years of the act or omission.

The statute of limitations for a minor under the age of eight is his or her 10 th birthday. Due to a lack of clarity of the current law, it is prudent to ensure the Notice of Intent is filed more than 182 days before his or her 10 th birthday instead of relying on the possibility of tolling. Minors over the age of eight are subject to the same statute of limitations as adult claimants.

If the injured person dies before the statute of limitations expires (or within a 30-day grace period thereafter), his or her personal representative may file a lawsuit within two years of being appointed as long as the lawsuit is filed no more than three years after the expiration of the statute of limitations. However, the Notice of Intent must be filed more than 182 days before the two year anniversary of the date the personal representative was appointed, or more than 182 days before the five year anniversary of the date the cause of action accrued, whichever comes first.

Different statutes of limitation may apply if the healthcare facility was federally-funded or state-operated at the time the cause of action accrued. There are also statute of limitations exceptions in situations involving injury to a claimant who was legally insane prior to the accrual of the cause of action or certain types of injuries to an individual's reproductive organs. Furthermore, certain exceptions to the deadlines apply if a health care provider's fraudulent actions prevented the discovery of a claim.

What damages may be awarded?

Patients who suffer harm due to their medical providers' carelessness or negligence may incur a range of undue expenses. This may include the costs of any additional treatment they need because of their injuries or worsened conditions, the cost of their future related-health care needs and lost wages. Through a medical malpractice action, people may be awarded economic damages, which include their already incurred losses and their potential future expenses.

Some of the losses patients suffer when they are injured or experience worsened medical conditions due to medical errors or negligence are not tangible, making it difficult to assign them a financial value. Such non-economic damages include pain and suffering, disfigurement or disability, loss of quality of life, and loss of consortium or companionship. While there is no limit on the amount of economic damages patients may be awarded, non-economic damages are capped at $445,500. The maximum allowable award for such losses may be increased to $795,500 in circumstances involving certain catastrophic injuries or death.

What is the burden of proof?

The burden of proof in medical malpractice claims lies with the injured patients. Therefore, people must show that certain circumstances existed in order to be awarded compensatory damages. According to state law, these include the following:

  • An injury was suffered
  • The health care professional failed to provide the recognized standard of care
  • The injury was proximately caused by the medical provider's negligence

Further, patients pursuing medical malpractice claims must prove that the probability of their injuries occurring would have been 50 percent or less, but for their health care professionals' negligence or carelessness. Failing to establish these circumstances may impede people's ability to recover compensation for their losses.

Obtaining legal assistance

Injuries or death resulting from the careless or otherwise negligent actions of health care professionals in Michigan and elsewhere may have a devastating impact on patients, and their families. In addition to dealing with the effects of their injuries, those who experience such situations may lose income because they must take additional time off to recover and they may also incur undue medical expenses. In some situations, the medical providers or facilities responsible for such harm may be financially liable for the resulting damages. Therefore, people who have been injured due to their health care providers' negligence may find it helpful to discuss their options with an attorney.