Alaska Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Learn about the statute of limitations and other relevant Alaska laws regarding medical malpractice lawsuits.

If you think you have a medical malpractice claim in Alaska, you're probably wondering about the state laws that might come into play in your case. 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 attorney—but it can also be useful to understand the basics before you get started. In this article we'll look at several important laws that apply to a medical malpractice claim in Alaska, including:

  • the state's deadlines for filing the lawsuit
  • what you need to prove in your case
  • the statutory limits on compensation you can be awarded if your case succeeds, and
  • what happens if you are partially to blame for your injuries.

Time Limits for Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Alaska

All states have laws called "statutes of limitations" that set specific time limits for filing a lawsuit in civil court. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be especially complex because they can contain as many as three or four separate deadlines, depending on the type of medical negligence at issue in the case.

In Alaska, the general time limit for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is the same as it is for other types of personal injury cases: "within two years of the accrual of the cause of action." In most cases, the "accrual" date will be the date on which the medical error occurred—which means the injured patient has two years from that date to file the claim against a doctor, hospital, or other health care provider.

But Alaska also applies what's called the "discovery rule" in medical malpractice cases. Under that rule, the plaintiff has two years from the date the provider's error is discovered—or reasonably should have been discovered—to initiate the case. But under Alaska's ten-year "statute of repose," a patient can't file a medical malpractice lawsuit more than ten years after the date of the alleged malpractice. So, even if you couldn't have known about the medical error at any point during the ten years after it occurred, you're still barred from filing a medical malpractice lawsuit once those ten years are up. However, in cases where a foreign object was left in a patient's body, the ten-year time limit is "tolled" (or paused) until the foreign object is discovered.

Finally, Alaska law provides special time limits if the injured patient is a minor (under the age of 18) or incompetent due to a mental illness or mental disability. In those situations, the person is considered under "legal disability," and the "clock" doesn't start running until the period of disability ends—which means that the patient has two years after turning 18 years old or being declared competent to file the lawsuit.

(Alaska Statutes §§ 09.10.055, 09.10.070, 09.10.140 (2022).)

What the Injured Patient Needs to Prove in an Alaska Medical Malpractice Case

The plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) in a medical malpractice case has the burden of proving that their injuries resulted from the defendant health care provider's negligence or willful misconduct. In Alaska Statutes § 09.55.540, the law specifically explains that the injured patient must demonstrate all of the following in order to meet that burden of proof:

  • that the plaintiff and the defendant had a "health care provider-patient relationship" at the time of the alleged malpractice
  • the "degree of knowledge or skill possessed or the degree of care ordinarily exercised under the circumstances" that led to the lawsuit, by the health care provider in the field or specialty in which the provider is practicing (this is what's often called the "medical standard of care")
  • that the health care provider either lacked the appropriate "degree or knowledge or skill" or failed to exercise the appropriate level of care, and
  • that, "as a proximate result of this lack of knowledge or skill or the failure to exercise this degree of care, the plaintiff suffered injuries that would not otherwise have been incurred."

In order to meet the required burden of proof, you'll almost certainly need the testimony of at least one medical expert who must be qualified under Alaska law. You can find the requirements for medical expert witnesses at Alaska Statutes § 09.20.185. And if you have questions about your specific situation, it might be time to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney.

Alaska's Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages

As part of tort reform efforts, some states place "caps" (or limits) on the amount of damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a successful medical malpractice case. Like most other 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.

Under Alaska law, noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases are capped at $250,000, regardless of the number of health care providers involved. That figure increases to 400,000 for wrongful death or if the injured person's injuries resulted in "severe permanent physical impairment that is more than 70 percent disabling." But the limits don't apply in cases where the injuries were caused by "an act or omission that constitutes reckless or intentional misconduct."

Note that economic damages are not capped under Alaska law. Economic damages are "objectively verifiable monetary losses" suffered as a result of the malpractice, including compensation for health care services or medical products, past and future medical expenses, loss of past or future earnings, costs of domestic services, and loss of business or employment opportunities.

(Alaska Statutes § 09.55.549 (2022).)

Alaska's Shared Fault Rules

In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant might argue that you are at least partly responsible 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 will be reduced in proportion to your fault. If, for instance, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found to be 20 percent at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000. Unlike in many other states, you could still receive damages under Alaska's comparative fault rule even if you are found to be more responsible for your injuries than the defendant health care provider.

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