If you're considering a medical malpractice case in Minnesota, there are a few state laws you need to understand. Any medical malpractice case needs to be filed within certain time limits. State laws in Minnesota also affect how fault is shared among negligent parties and how damages are paid. In this article, we'll discuss these and other Minnesota medical malpractice laws.
Medical malpractice cases in Minnesota are governed by the state's "statute of limitations," which creates a deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. In Minnesota, the deadline falls four years "from the date the cause of action accrued" in most cases.
"The date the cause of action accrued" can be difficult to pin down in medical malpractice cases. If the injury is obvious on the same day it occurs, the four-year window to file the claim will probably begin running on that date. However, some medical malpractice errors aren't identifiable for months or years after the malpractice occurs. In these cases, the four-year window may begin running on the date the injured person knew or should have known something was wrong, rather than the date the malpractice occurred. This is known as the "discovery rule".
Several states "cap," or limit, damages in medical malpractice cases. The most common limits on awards in medical malpractice cases are non-economic damages, which includes compensation for pain and suffering. Minnesota, however, does not cap any types of damages in medical malpractice cases. The amount of damages available in any particular case is usually determined by the jury, although the judge has discretion to reduce an award and may do so in rare cases.
Like a number of states, Minnesota requires an affidavit of merit to be filed with the court along with the initial lawsuit (which gets the case started).
The affidavit must state that a qualified medical expert has reviewed the injured person's case and determined that at least one medical professional deviated from the standard of care in treating the patient. The affidavit must be filed at the outset of the case (when the complaint is filed), unless the plaintiff can show that obtaining the required expert review was not reasonable based on the statute of limitations filing deadline, in which case the plaintiff will be granted an additional 90 days to get the affidavit filed.
A medical malpractice plaintiff is also required to submit an affidavit that:
...within 180 days of the start of the discovery process.
See the details on Minnesota's "Certification of Expert Review" and "Identification of Expert" requirements at Minnesota Statutes section 145.682.
Minnesota also has specific laws regarding how medical malpractice damages are paid if an injured person succeeds in court. For instance, the "periodic payments provision" requires the court to hold a separate hearing in any case where the total damages are more than $100,000. The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the negligent parties can or should pay the damages in installments, rather than in a lump sum. (For more on the pros and cons of structured settlements, see How Are Medical Malpractice Settlements Structured?
In some medical malpractice cases, the negligence of more than one party caused the injury. For instance, during surgery, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the nurses work together to monitor the patient for signs of distress. If an injury results because distress signs were negligently ignored, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the hospital that employs the nurses may all share the fault for the injury.
In most personal injury claims in Minnesota, parties who share fault are considered to share "joint and several liability." This means that any one of them can be made to pay the damages for all of them, if the others cannot pay.
However, Minnesota uses a different system for medical malpractice. In Minnesota, joint and several liability does not apply in a medical malpractice case unless the negligent parties were more than 50 percent at fault, were working together in a "common scheme or plan" to cause injury, were committing an intentional tort, or were liable based on an environmental or other law. If the negligent parties do not fall in any of these categories, each party can only be held liable for the portion of damages assigned to it, not for the entire award.