Alaska Medical Malpractice Laws and Statutory Rules

Learn about Alaska's medical malpractice statute of limitations, the elements of a malpractice claim, caps on damages you can collect, and more.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated by Dan Ray , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Chances are you found your way here because you've been injured by a medical provider's negligence (carelessness), and you're thinking about an insurance claim or a lawsuit. It's important to know up front that medical malpractice cases are extremely complicated, and you'll most likely need the help of an experienced Alaska medical malpractice attorney.

But you should understand the basics of Alaska medical malpractice law. We'll explain what you must prove to win a malpractice case, how long you have to file a lawsuit in court, Alaska's medical malpractice review panels, and the statute that limits your compensation ("damages," in the language of the law) even if you succeed.

Proving Your Alaska Medical Malpractice Case

First things first. What must you prove to win an Alaska medical malpractice case? Alaska Stat. § 9.55.540(a) (2024) spells out the requirements.

Four Elements of a Malpractice Claim

As the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit), you have the burden of proving that your injuries resulted from the defendant health care provider's negligent or willful misconduct. Here are the four elements you must show.

  • Provider-patient relationship. There can't be a malpractice case unless you had a "health care provider-patient relationship" at the time the malpractice happened. Showing this relationship is rarely a problem.
  • Standard of care. Before you can prove what the provider did wrong, you need to establish what they should have done to properly care for you. This is known as the "standard of care," and it's an absolutely essential part of your case. The standard of care typically is described as that degree of care and skill that an ordinarily careful health care provider in the community, having the same education, training, and experience as your provider, would have used under the same circumstances.
  • Substandard care. Once you've shown what the provider should have done, you must prove what they actually did (or failed to do) that made your care substandard. In legal terms, this is known as a "breach" of the standard of care. Without substandard care, there's no medical malpractice.
  • Your injuries were caused by substandard care. It isn't enough to show malpractice—the standard of care and how your provider failed to meet it. You must prove that you were injured, meaning you suffered injuries you wouldn't have otherwise. In addition, you have to demonstrate that those injuries were caused by the malpractice.

You'll Need Expert Witnesses to Prove These Elements

In almost every case, you'll need expert witnesses to prove each of these elements. An expert is a person who's qualified by education, training, or experience to testify about matters that are beyond the knowledge of jurors and the judge. Alaska law specifies the requirements medical experts must meet to testify in court. (See Alaska Stat. § 09.20.185 (2024).) It's up to the trial court judge to decide whether each expert satisfies these requirements.

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don't worry. Your Alaska medical malpractice attorney understands how to work with expert witnesses and will know what to do.

Time Limits for Filing an Alaska Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

All states have laws called "statutes of limitations" that set time limits for filing a lawsuit in civil court. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be especially complex because they often have not just one but several deadlines, depending on the facts of the case.

The General Rule: Two Years From the Date of the Malpractice

In Alaska, the general time limit for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is the same as for other types of personal injury cases: Two years from the date your claim accrues. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.070(a) (2024).) In most cases, your claim accrues on the date the malpractice caused your injury. As a general rule, then, you have two years from the date of the malpractice to file your case in court.

Alaska's "Discovery Rule"

The general rule works fine when you know right away you've been hurt. But what if you don't discover your injury until months or even years later? In those cases, Alaska's "discovery rule" might give you more time to sue. Under the discovery rule, you must file in court within two years from the date you discover or reasonably should have discovered the malpractice. (See Pedersen v. Zielski, 822 P.2d 903, 906 (Alaska 1991).)

If you plan to rely on the discovery rule, be ready for a fight. It's up to you to prove that you didn't discover and couldn't have discovered the provider's malpractice within two years of the date it occurred. The defendant will object to you getting additional time. You'll have to make arguments to the court, and those arguments must be supported by legal authority.

In short: This is a battle you don't want to fight on your own. Hire an Alaska medical malpractice lawyer to represent you and make your arguments to the court.

Alaska's Statute of Repose

Alaska has another deadline that applies to medical malpractice cases. Called a "statute of repose," it limits your time to discover the malpractice. As a rule, you must file your lawsuit not later than 10 years from the date the malpractice happened. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.055(a)(2) (2024).)

Importantly, this 10-year deadline applies whether or not you discover the malpractice that injured you. The statute of repose bars your medical malpractice claim even if you never found out you had one.

The statute of repose is "tolled" (paused) when a health care provider carelessly leaves a foreign object inside your body. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.055(c) (2024).) The 10-year clock doesn't start running until you actually discover the foreign object. In addition, the statute of repose doesn't apply when:

  • an injury is caused by intentional misconduct or gross negligence
  • an injury is caused by fraud or misrepresentation, or
  • the health care provider intentionally conceals facts that would put you on notice of a potential malpractice claim.

(Alaska Stat. § 9.10.055(b) (2024).)

Injured Patient Is Legally Disabled

Finally, Alaska law provides special time limits when the injured patient is a minor (younger than 18) or incompetent due to a mental illness or mental disability. Under Alaska Stat. § 9.10.140(a) (2024), these patients are considered to be legally disabled, and the two-year clock doesn't start running until the legal disability ends.

In other words, a minor has two years from their 18th birthday to sue. A person who's mentally incompetent has two years after being declared competent.

Different rules might apply when the injured patient is a newborn or a very young child. Your attorney can fill you in on the details.

Medical Malpractice Expert Advisory Panel Review

Under Alaska law, the parties to a medical malpractice lawsuit can agree to voluntarily arbitrate the case. When the parties don't agree to voluntary arbitration, the trial court must appoint a three-member "expert advisory panel" to review the case shortly after a lawsuit is filed. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.536(a) (2024).)

Within 30 days after the panel is appointed, the members submit a written report to the court and the parties. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.536(c) (2024).) The report answers several questions, including whether:

  • the provider made a correct diagnosis and if not, how it was incorrect
  • the treatment (or lack of treatment) provided was appropriate and if not, how it was inappropriate
  • the patient was injured
  • if the patient was injured, what caused the injury, and
  • the injury was caused by substandard care.

If the case later goes to trial, the advisory panel report can be admitted into evidence and be considered the same as any other expert witness testimony. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.536(e) (2024).) Members of the panel can be called to testify as experts in court.

Alaska's Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages

Many states have "caps" (or limits) on medical malpractice damages. Like most states with similar laws, Alaska's damages cap applies only to "noneconomic" damages. Noneconomic damages include compensation for losses that are hard to place a specific dollar amount on, such as pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium.

Cap on Noneconomic Damages

Alaska caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $250,000, regardless of the number of health care providers involved. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(d) (2024).) That figure increases to $400,000 if the malpractice results in death or in "severe permanent physical impairment that is more than 70 percent disabling." (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(e) (2024).) These limits don't apply when the injuries were caused by "reckless or intentional misconduct." (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(f) (2024).)

No Cap on Economic Damages

Alaska doesn't cap economic damages. Economic damages are those that come out of your pocket (or in some cases, are paid by your insurance company). Common examples include the costs of medical products, past and future medical expenses, loss of past or future earnings, amounts you pay for household services, and loss of business or employment opportunities.

Get Help With Your Alaska Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

There are some personal injury cases you might be able to handle on your own, without a lawyer. An Alaska medical malpractice case isn't one of them. Almost without exception, these cases are factually and legally complex, involving issues you simply aren't prepared to handle. A mistake can prove costly, and might mean you lose the right to collect any damages for your injuries.

Don't take needless chances with your malpractice lawsuit. When you're ready to get started, here's how to find a Florida medical malpractice lawyer who's right for you.

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