After an injury from a medical error, you might question how long you can pursue legal action against a health care provider. In Massachusetts, two laws limit the time you can sue for malpractice: the statute of limitations and the statute of repose.
The discovery rule
Under the statute of limitations law, the time you discovered or should have discovered the injury determines the deadline for filing a suit. This means you have three years to file a lawsuit after becoming aware of your injury and its possible link to the medical care you received. However, the court may extend this deadline in some instances. Such cases include being under 18, mentally incapacitated or fraudulently misled by the doctor or hospital.
Statute of repose
In Massachusetts, the statute of repose means you have seven years to file a suit after the medical error occurred, no matter when you discovered it or how long it took to cause harm. The statute of repose is the law that sets the absolute deadline for filing a lawsuit based on when the medical error occurred, regardless of when you discovered it.
One exception to this rule is if a health care provider injures you by leaving an object in your body, such as a surgical sponge or instrument. In that case, you can pursue legal action anytime after discovering the foreign object.
Why does it matter?
Both statutes prevent you from pursuing your legal rights if you do not act fast enough. Even if you discover your injury within the three-year statute of limitations, the state may not allow you to file a case if it has been more than seven years since the medical error. This can happen in cases where the injury is not immediately apparent or fully developed, such as cancer, brain damage or infection.
So, if you or a loved one gets injured due to medical negligence, you could consult a lawyer to help understand the legalities of the situation and protect your rights to compensation for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering and other damages.