Oklahoma Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Learn about the statute of limitations and other relevant Oklahoma medical malpractice laws.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University

Medical malpractice cases are typically very complicated in all states, not just Oklahoma. With all of the medical and legal issues involved, you'll most likely need the help of an attorney experienced in handling these types of cases. But it's also helpful for a potential plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) to understand some of the key laws that will affect any Oklahoma medical malpractice claim, including the time limits for filing the lawsuit, what the injured patient will need to prove in a medical malpractice case, and the rules on compensation that can be awarded if your case succeeds. Read on to learn more.

Oklahoma's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

Oklahoma, like all states, has laws called "statutes of limitations" that set deadlines for filing lawsuits in the state's civil court system. These laws set different time limits, depending on the type of case you want to file. But be aware that these time limits are always strictly enforced, meaning that if you miss the deadline that applies to your case, you'll almost certainly lose the right to have the court hear your case.

In Oklahoma, the applicable statute of limitations gives patients injured by medical negligence (or their representatives, in cases resulting in death) two years to file their claims in court. But when does the two-year time period begin? In most cases, the "clock" will start running on the date of the injury, but Oklahoma applies what's known as the "discovery rule" in medical malpractice cases. Under that rule, you have two years from the date you "knew or should have known, through the exercise of reasonable diligence" that the health care provider's negligence caused your injury.

(Oklahoma Statutes title 76, § 18 (2022).)

The "Affidavit of Merit" Requirement in Oklahoma Medical Malpractice Cases Ruled Unconstitutional

Many states have passed laws that set out specific procedural rules that patients in medical malpractice cases must follow when filing their lawsuits. In many cases, state law requires a potential plaintiff to file a document called an "affidavit of merit" alongside the complaint that begins the case. Oklahoma has a similar statute on the books (at Oklahoma Statutes title 12, § 19.1). However, in 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, meaning that affidavits of merit are no longer required in Oklahoma medical malpractice cases. (John v. Saint Francis Hospital, Inc., 405 P.3d 681 (2017).)

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

The plaintiff in a medical malpractice case has the burden of proving that their injuries resulted from the defendant health care provider's medical negligence. In order to meet that burden of proof, the injured patient must establish:

  • that the plaintiff and the defendant had a health care provider-patient relationship at the time of the alleged malpractice
  • the appropriate "medical standard of care" under the circumstances that gave rise to the lawsuit (the type and level of care that a similar health care provider would have provided)
  • that the health care provider failed to exercise the appropriate level of care required when treating the patient
  • the patient suffered an injury, and
  • that, as a "proximate result" of the health care provider's failure to deliver the appropriate level 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 Oklahoma law. (See Oklahoma Statutes title 63, § 1-1708.1 for the details on who can qualify as an expert witness in an Oklahoma medical malpractice case.)

And if you have questions about your specific situation, it might be time to contact a medical malpractice attorney.

Oklahoma's Medical Malpractice Damages Cap Ruled Unconstitutional

Oklahoma Statutes title 23, § 61.2 "caps" (or limits) noneconomic damages in all personal injury cases (not just medical malpractice cases) at $350,000. Noneconomic damages include compensation for injuries such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, and other intangible losses. But in April 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that this cap is unconstitutional, meaning that it is no longer in effect. There are currently no limits on the amount of noneconomic damages an injured patient in an Oklahoma medical malpractice case can be awarded. (Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Inc., 441 P.3d 1107 (2019).)

Note that economic losses were never subject to the state's statutory damage cap. Economic damages include compensation for past and future medical treatment, lost income and earning capacity, and any other damages that can be captured by an objective dollar amount.

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