South Dakota Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules

Learn about the statute of limitations and other South Dakota laws affecting medical malpractice lawsuits.

If you've been injured by a health care provider's error in South Dakota, you might be weighing your options. One of those options could be filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. While these lawsuits are almost always extremely complex undertakings—making the help of a good medical malpractice attorney a necessity—it can be helpful to understand the basic outlines of what you're getting into before you decide to head to court. In this article, we'll examine some of the most important South Dakota medical malpractice laws, including:

  • the state's statute of limitations on filing a medical malpractice claim
  • the role of medical experts in a typical medical malpractice case, and
  • the statutory limits on the compensation you may be awarded if your claim succeeds.

South Dakota's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

South Dakota, like all states, has laws on the books that set out specific time limits for filing lawsuits in the state's civil court system. These laws, called "statutes of limitations," provide different deadlines for different types of lawsuits, but the time limits are always strictly enforced. That means that if you try to file your case after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, the lawsuit will most likely be tossed out as time-barred—and you will have lost the right to have the court hear your case. That's why it's so important to understand and follow the statute of limitations.

Also like a lot of states, South Dakota has a specific statute of limitations that applies to medical malpractice claims. Under S.D. Codified Laws § 15-2-14.1, the law says that a patient injured by medical negligence has two years from the date the alleged malpractice occurred to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. The law makes clear that the two-year "clock" starts to run on the date of the health care provider's "alleged malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure."

But what if you didn't discover that you were injured right away? Most states apply what's called the "discovery rule" to medical malpractice cases, but not South Dakota. Although the specifics of the discovery rule differ from state to state, it typically extends the statute of limitations for patients who didn't know about—and couldn't have known about—the malpractice soon after it happened. But the South Dakota Supreme Court has held that, because of the way the state's medical malpractice statute of limitations is written, the filing-deadline clock begins to run on the date the medical error occurred—not the date the patient discovered the injury or the malpractice. (Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Medical Center, 2016 S.D. 33 (2016).) So even if you couldn't have known about your injuries within two years after the date the malpractice occurred, you would still be barred from filing the lawsuit once the two-year time limit expires.

Medical Expert Testimony in South Dakota Medical Malpractice Cases

In most medical malpractice lawsuits, the testimony of medical experts will come into play on both sides. South Dakota law says that a person who is qualified as an expert "by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education"—that is, a licensed physician who practices in the same (or a similar) field of medicine as the defendant health care provider in a medical malpractice lawsuit—may offer an opinion at trial if:

  • the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact (i.e. the judge or jury) to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue
  • the expert's testimony is based on sufficient facts or data
  • the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and
  • the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

So when the judge or 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 an 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.

(S.D. Codified Laws § 19-19-702 (2022).)

Caps on Damages in South Dakota Medical Malpractice Cases

South Dakota, like many states, limits or "caps" the amount of compensation that can be awarded in successful medical malpractice cases. In South Dakota, there is a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages, regardless of whether the case goes to trial or is settled through binding arbitration. Noneconomic damages include compensation for the types of injuries that can't easily be calculated based on bills or receipts, such as pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, emotional distress, and humiliation.

It's important to note that South Dakota does not cap economic damages, such as compensation for medical bills (past and future), lost wages and earning capacity, and other financial losses resulting from the medical malpractice. There are no statutory limits to the amount of economic damages an injured patient in a South Dakota medical malpractice can receive.

(S.D. Codified Laws § 21-3-11 (2022).)

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