If you think you might have a legitimate medical malpractice claim in Alaska, you are probably wondering what state laws might come into play in your case. In this article we'll look at several important state laws that apply to a medical malpractice injury claim, lawsuit, or settlement in Alaska.
All states have very specific deadlines for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be somewhat complex because they may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines.
The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice a certain number of years after the malpractice occurred within which to file a lawsuit. The standard deadline in Alaska is two years. That means that, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years after the malpractice occurred, you lose your right to sue for medical malpractice relating to the incident in question unless you fall within one of the exceptions created by the other parts of the statute of limitations.
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule -- an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case.
In Alaska, the discovery rule delays the commencement of the statute of limitations until the date that the medical malpractice victim has information sufficient to alert a reasonable person to the fact that he has a potential claim for medical malpractice.
The third part of the statute of limitations is the deadline for minors (children under age 18) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In Alaska, there is a special deadline only for minor children under age eight at the time of the malpractice. If a child under eight years of age is the victim of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations does not begin running until the child’s eighth birthday.
The fourth part of the statute of limitations is sometimes called a statute of repose, which imposes an absolute deadline on medical malpractice claims, regardless of when the victim discovered them. In Alaska, the statute of repose provides that a medical malpractice lawsuit may not be commenced more than 10 years after the alleged act of medical malpractice, although there are several exceptions.
The 10 year limit does not apply at all if the malpractice resulted from an intentional act or gross negligence or if the facts that would give notice of a potential claim are intentionally concealed. It also does not apply for a minor child’s malpractice case if the facts that would otherwise cause the statute of limitations to begin running were not reasonably discoverable by the minor's parent or guardian. Finally, the 10 year limit does not begin running in cases of an undiscovered foreign object in the body until the foreign object is discovered.
Alaska has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case. For example, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was mentally ill or mentally disabled.
The Alaska statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Alaska Statutes 09.10.070.
Some states have caps or limits on the amount of damages that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. In Alaska, damages for non-economic losses (i.e., pain, suffering, physical impairment, loss of enjoyment of life, and/or loss of consortium) in all personal injury cases, including medical malpractice cases, are limited to $400,000 or the injured person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $8,000, whichever is greater.
An exception to this limitation is when the damages are awarded for severe permanent physical impairment or severe disfigurement. In that case, non-economic damages may not exceed $1,000,000 or the person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $25,000, whichever is greater.
This law can be found at Alaska Statutes 09.17.010.
In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor’s instructions. If you go to trial and are found to be partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
Alaska follows a "pure comparative negligence" rule. This means that, if you are found to be negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000 under comparative negligence rules.
Another important Alaska law on medical malpractice has to do with who can testify as to the negligence of the defendant physician.
In order to be permitted to testify that the defendant was negligent in a medical malpractice case in Alaska, an expert medical witness must be licensed professionally, trained and experienced in the same field as the defendant or in an area directly related to a matter at issue in the case, and certified by a board recognized by the state of Alaska as having acknowledged expertise and training directly related to the particular field or matter at issue (unless no such board exists). This law can be found at Alaska Statutes 09.20.185.