If you're considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maine, this article offers a look at a few state laws that could affect your case.
All states have very specific deadlines for filing medical malpractice cases. 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 Maine is three years. If you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within three 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 (which we'll discuss next).
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule, which is 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. The Maine discovery rule is more limited than most other states' discovery rules. In Maine, the discovery rule only applies in cases where the malpractice claim is based upon the leaving of a foreign object in the body, in which case the malpractice victim shall have three years from the date that he/she discovers or reasonably should have discovered the harm.
There are different deadlines for minors (children under age eighteen) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maine. A minor child must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within six years from the date of the alleged malpractice or by the age of 21, whichever occurs first, with one exception. If the malpractice claim is based upon the leaving of a foreign object in the body, the minor child must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within six years from the date that the child, his/her parents, or guardians discover or reasonably should have discovered the harm, or by the age of 21, whichever occurs first.
Maine has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances. For example, in many cases, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant fraudulently concealed the malpractice, if the defendant left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was legally insane or mentally incompetent. The Maine statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at the Maine Revised Statutes title 24, section 2902.
Some states have caps or limits in the amount of the damages that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. Maine has a cap only in wrongful death malpractice cases. In wrongful death cases, there is a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages such as the loss of comfort, society and companionship of the deceased, including any damages for emotional distress.
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 on after-care. If you go to trial and are found partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
Maine follows a "modified comparative negligence" rule. This means, if you are found to be in part 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. However, if the jury finds that your fault is equal to or greater than the defendant's fault, then you are not entitled to recover any damages, and your case is dismissed.
Many states have passed laws requiring plaintiffs' lawyers in medical malpractice cases to submit some proof of the defendant's negligence at the beginning of the case. This proof is usually in the form of a report containing the opinion of a physician as to the merits of the case. In some states, the report is called an Affidavit of Merit. Maine has what is called a Prelitigation Screening Panel.
In Maine, a medical malpractice case must be submitted to a special pre-litigation panel before it can continue in court. The panel will hear the evidence and issue a decision in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant. The decision is confidential, except that, if the panel unanimously votes in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant, and the losing party takes the case to trial, the jury will be informed of the panel's decision. This law can be found at Maine Revised Statutes title 24, sections 2851 to 2859. For further information about the pre-litigation screening panel, please refer to the statute or consult an experienced attorney.