South Dakota has several state laws that govern how medical malpractice claims are handled. We'll touch on some key components of South Dakota medical malpractice law in this article, starting with the time limits for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. We'll also look at South Dakota's limits on damages that can be awarded in a medical malpractice case, and we'll examine a few rules that apply specifically to medical malpractice claims in South Dakota, like the arbitration option and the periodic payments rule.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit over an incident that caused you injury or some other kind of harm. There are different statutes of limitations for different kinds of cases.
In South Dakota, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits can be found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-14.1. This law says that a person injured by medical negligence has two years from the date of the alleged malpractice to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. The law makes clear that the two-year "clock" starts on the date of the defendant health care provider's "alleged malpractice, error, [or] mistake." But what if you did not discover that you were injured right away? If the statute of limitations filing deadline has passed, and the viability of your case hinges on this "discovery" argument, it's time to contact an experienced South Dakota medical malpractice lawyer.
Special rules usually apply if the patient was under the age of 18 or was considered "mentally ill" at the time of the alleged malpractice. The patient is said to be under a "legal disability" in those situations, and once the "disability" is over -- the patient turns 18 or is said to be mentally competent -- the medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within one year (this rule can be found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-22).
Like many states, South Dakota places a cap on medical malpractice awards even when the plaintiff is successful in a lawsuit. In South Dakota, the cap applies to "non-economic" damages only. This includes compensation for things like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or the loss of the care and guidance of a parent.
South Dakota caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at $500,000. "Economic" damages for losses like medical costs and lost wages, are not capped.
In addition to capping non-economic damages, South Dakota uses a periodic payments rule. Under this rule, the judge can order damages to be paid in installments, rather than in a single lump sum. The rule applies if future damages in the case total more than $200,000, if both parties agree to periodic payments, or if one party requests periodic payments and the other party does not object in time.
In some medical malpractice cases, the jury finds that the injured plaintiff is partly at fault for his or her injuries, or that multiple defendants each share some portion of the fault for the injury. In these cases, South Dakota's pure comparative fault rule applies. This rule states that the percentage of damages a plaintiff receives is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff.
If multiple defendants are at fault, each may be responsible for up to two times his or her percentage of the damages under South Dakota's joint and several liability rule.
Here is an example of South Dakota's comparative fault rule in action. Suppose that in a medical negligence case, a jury finds that the defendant, a doctor who treated the injured plaintiff, is 90 percent at fault for the plaintiff's injury. However, the jury also finds that the plaintiff is 10 percent at fault for delaying the medical care needed to treat the initial injury. The jury also finds the plaintiff's damages total $100,000. In this case, the defendant will be responsible for paying $90,000, or 90 percent of the total damages, because the defendant was found to be 90 percent at fault.
Because South Dakota uses a "pure" comparative fault rule, the amount of the plaintiff's fault is the amount by which damages are reduced, no matter how large that amount is. For example, if a jury finds a plaintiff is 99 percent at fault and a defendant is 1 percent at fault, the defendant will have to pay 1 percent of the total damages award.
In most medical malpractice lawsuits, the opinion of medical experts will be counted on by both sides. South Dakota Codified Laws section 19-19-702 says that a witness who is qualified as an expert "by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education" -- i.e. a licensed physician who practices in the same field of medicine as the defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit -- may offer an opinion at trial if:
So, when the jury in a medical malpractice lawsuit is charged with determining whether a health care provider's error amounted to negligence, a qualified expert witness may offer his or her opinion on key issues such as the "standard of care" that the health care provider's conduct should be measured against, and how the defendant's conduct fell short of meeting that standard. And in response to this testimony, the defendant's team will offer up the testimony of its own medical experts in an effort to show that the defendant's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances, and did not amount to medical negligence.