If you’ve suffered health problems or other consequences because of what you believe was medical negligence in Minnesota, you might be thinking of filing a medical malpractice claim. Unfortunately, these cases are very complicated, and they present a number of obstacles for injured patients. So it’s important to get help from a qualified medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you can. But it’s also important to have a general understanding of the process and the steps you’ll need to take—especially so you won’t wait too long to take action.
This article gives you an overview the most important laws in Minnesota that will impact your medical malpractice claim, including:
Medical malpractice cases in Minnesota are governed by the state's "statute of limitations," a law that sets 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 (Minn. Stat. § 541.076 (2021).)
The statute doesn’t specify when the cause of action accrues, so it’s been up to Minnesota courts to weigh in on that question. Some states follow what’s known as the “discovery rule,” under which the “clock” for the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until patients discover—or reasonably should discover—that they’ve suffered harm as a result of medical negligence. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected that approach, holding instead that the four-year time period begins as soon as the alleged medical negligence caused some damage to the patient (not when the exact nature and extent of the harm can be determined).
So if you suffered injuries as a result of a medical mistake, but you don’t file your lawsuit within four years after that happened, your case will almost certainly be dismissed—even if you weren’t aware that negligence was the cause of your injuries.
Under very limited circumstances, Minnesota suspends the statute of limitations, which effectively extends the four-year deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. These circumstances include:
In the case of a minor, however, the suspension may not last more than seven years, or more than one year after the child turns 18. (Minn. Stat. §§ 541.13, 541.15 (2021).)
In an effort to weed out frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, a number of states require plaintiffs (those trying to sue) to submit some evidence of malpractice at the outset of their case before being allowed to proceed. In Minnesota, these requirements take the form of two separate affidavits that you must file whenever a medical expert’s testimony will be needed to prove that, more probably than not, your injuries were the result of the defendant health care provider’s negligence.
Expert testimony—and thus Minnesota’s requirement for these affidavits—is almost always necessary to prove medical malpractice. The only exceptions would be in situations where the medical error falls within an area of common knowledge, such that lay jurors could understand and pass judgment on whether the defendant provided proper care—for example, when a surgical sponge or other instrument was left in a patient’s body after surgery. In the vast majority of cases, however, failure to comply with the affidavit requirements will lead to dismissal of the lawsuit. (Hestbeck v. Hennepin County, 212 N.W.2d 361 (Minn. 1973); Minn. Stat. § 145.682 (2021).)
Several states set limits on the amount of damages that plaintiffs may receive in medical malpractice cases, particularly on noneconomic damages like pain and suffering. That’s not the case in Minnesota, however. The jury usually determines the amount of damages available in any particular case, although the judge might reduce an award in rare cases.
What if the jury finds that you were partly to blame for the injuries that you suffered as a result of medical malpractice? This could happen if, for example, negligence during surgery led to medical complications, but those complications were worse because you ignored doctor’s orders about what you should or shouldn’t do after surgery. Minnesota follows a shared-fault rule known as “modified comparative negligence,” which means that you will still be able to collect some damages as long as your share of the fault is not greater than the defendant’s share (in other words, not more than 50%), but your award will be reduced in proportion to your share of the fault. So if the jury finds that you were 10% responsible for your injuries or other losses, you would receive 90% of the total award. However, if you were more than 50% at fault for your injuries, you wouldn't be able to collect any damages, even if the jury found that the defendant committed malpractice.
If multiple defendants share the fault for your injuries—such as a surgeon, anesthesiologist, and hospital—Minnesota law makes each of them responsible only for a part of your award that’s proportionate to their share of the blame. However, in certain situations Minnesota uses the “joint and several liability” rule to make one or more defendant legally responsible for the entire award, even if others were partially at fault. This rule would apply, for instance, if one defendant was responsible for more than 50% of the total fault, or if two or more defendants acted together “in a common scheme or plan” that caused your injuries.