Ohio Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

A summary of Ohio's statutory time limits for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, "caps" on certain damages, and other state laws that could affect your case.

Medical malpractice laws in Ohio have been relatively stable since early 2003, when sweeping medical malpractice reforms went into effect (most of the changes applied to cases filed after April 2003). What follows is a summary of Ohio laws that are likely to affect a medical malpractice lawsuit filed in the state's courts. (Note: Many of these laws can be found in full in Chapters 2305 and 2323 of the Ohio Revised Code.)

Ohio Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court. In Ohio, medical malpractice lawsuits are subject to a one-year statute of limitations, and the "clock" starts to run when either the injury is (or reasonably should have been) discovered, or when the doctor/patient relationship for the condition in question ends, whichever comes later. But there's also a so-called "statute of repose" that sets an overarching deadline: Regardless of when the injury occurred or was discovered, or when the doctor/patient relationship ended, all medical malpractice cases must be filed within four years in Ohio.

(Note: For cases where a foreign object has been left in a patient's body, or where the injury was not reasonably discovered within the first three years, the plaintiff has one full year from discovery of the foreign object or injury, even if that one full year would put the plaintiff outside the normal four-year window.)

The "180-Day Letter" Extension

It might be possible to extend the statute of limitations filing period. If the deadline is approaching, the injured patient may send a "180-Day Letter" to any potential defendant health care provider, advising that the patient is considering bringing a lawsuit. This kind of letter -- which must be received by the health care provider before the one-year limitations period ends -- gives the would-be plaintiff 180 days to file the lawsuit.

"Affidavit of Merit" and Expert Requirements

Under Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 10(D)(2), all medical malpractice cases filed in the state must be supported by an affidavit of merit executed by an appropriate expert witness, which in Ohio means the expert must be licensed to practice medicine in any state and must focus three-quarters of his or her professional time to the active clinical practice of medicine (or the teaching thereof).

The affidavit of merit must include statements affirming that the expert has reviewed the records available, is familiar with the applicable standard of care, and is of the opinion that the defendant health care provider(s) breached the standard of care and injured the plaintiff.

Damage Caps

Ohio has limited non-economic damages (which includes compensation for pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases, even where the plaintiff has received a judgment in his or her favor, finding that the health care provider committed malpractice.

Non-economic damages are currently capped at the greater of $250,000 or three times the economic damages, up to a maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 in cases involving multiple plaintiffs.

In certain cases where the injuries are deemed “catastrophic,” the caps are raised to $500,000 per plaintiff or $1,000,000 in cases involving multiple plaintiffs. Permanent and substantial deformity, loss of a limb, loss of an organ system and injuries so severe and permanent that they preclude self-care are all considered “catastrophic.”

The damage caps do not apply to wrongful death cases arising from malpractice in Ohio.

Liability Rules

Ohio assigns percentages of fault to parties and non-parties alike, so a defendant is normally only liable for his or her percentage of fault. For example, a doctor found 30% liable for a $100,000 claim would only be responsible for paying the plaintiff $30,000. There are two exceptions. The first is in a case involving an intentional act. The second is in cases where a defendant is found more than 50% liable for plaintiff’s injuries. In those cases, a single plaintiff can be held liable for the entire verdict, regardless of percentage of fault.

Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice in Ohio

In Ohio, malpractice cases that result in the death of a patient give rise to two different claims: a claim for malpractice that seeks damages relating to suffering and loss prior to the patient’s death, and a wrongful death case seeking damages for the monetary loss suffered by the decedent’s next of kin and other representatives. Wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the decedent’s passing.

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