There is only a limited time during which a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed. In the United States, these time limits are set by statute. In civil law systems, similar provisions are usually part of the civil code or criminal code and are often known collectively as "periods of prescription" or "prescriptive periods." The length of the time period and when that period begins vary per jurisdiction and type of malpractice. Therefore, each state has different time limits set. For example, in Pennsylvania, there is a two-year statute of limitation, but in other states the limitations period may be longer. Most states have special provisions for minors that may potentially extend the statute of limitations for a minor who has been injured as the result of medical malpractice.
How can you tell the difference between appropriate, but unsuccessful care and medical malpractice? Ask. Ask your doctor. Get second opinions if possible. Talk to lawyers, who may have medically trained staff that can give an informed opinion, or who may have dealt with the exact same issue (or doctor) you are dealing with. Do whatever you can to attempt to allay any misgivings you have about your care. But take any opinions with a grain of salt. Some doctors simply won’t accuse a “brother physician” of making a mistake. Some malpractice attorneys will exaggerate the potential of your claim in an attempt to make money. Use your best discretion when seeking opinions on your treatment, but be diligent in the pursuit of information. Until you file a lawsuit, you are your own best advocate and investigator.
The Avery Index estimates that Washington, D.C. has the highest concentration of lawyers in the United States, with about 276 lawyers per 10,000 residents. Most are smart and capable. However, when the stakes are high and you are contemplating waging a legal battle to obtain justice when you have been harmed by a medical professional, you want an attorney who has tried cases before and knows what it takes to win.
3. Evidence - keep track of any evidence which could be relevant to your case. Keep detailed records of your appointments with your GP, together with records of any telephone consultations and referral appointments. Your solicitor will arrange to obtain and copy of your medical notes and x-rays. You will have to pass this information on to your lawyer and it will be a lot easier if you have it at hand. Keep any prescriptions, receipts from further treatments, notes of further treatment and a diary detailing the progression of your health issues. For example, if you fell ill with appendicitis and your GP failed to diagnose it, you should keep a note of the progression of your condition, if you are well enough to do so. All of this is not vital, but very helpful.
Prominent physicians Nathan Smith and R.E. Griffith of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania respectively held the belief that medical malpractice lawsuits were beneficial and necessary, serving as a tool of accountability in a profession that was poorly regulated. The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 with the goal of promoting standardization of the profession, as well as elevating the standing of physicians in society. At the time, the vast majority of suits stemmed from orthopedic malpractice and deformations that resulted from botched amputations. As physicians sought to raise their own standards, higher patient expectations ensued. With the arrival of liability insurance for physicians, medical malpractice suits shot up in the States in the late 19th century.
This is not to say that doctors can withhold details when they believe a patient might refuse treatment they deem beneficial, though. My father, Barry J. Nace, was actually involved in a seminal case that has helped to further shape the boundaries of informed consent in such situations. Canterbury v. Spence, 464 F2d 772 (D.C. 1972) involved a surgeon who withheld the possibility of paralysis from a spine surgery patient, fearing that anxiety on the part of the individual might lead to postponing the procedure. Ultimately, the patient suffered complications and ended up paralyzed, while the surgeon claimed he was operating within community disclosure standards—an accepted idea at the time that judged whether physicians within a particular “community” would customarily convey such information in similar circumstances.