The number of lawsuits filed for medical malpractice in North Dakota situates the state in the middle of others, with about 21 cases filed for every 100,000 residents in 2015. Those lawsuits amounted to a total of just $2.8 million in settlements and awards to the plaintiffs, the victims of medical errors. The laws in North Dakota can often be restrictive and benefit the defendants rather than the victims.
To navigate these complicated laws and to have the best chance of a successful lawsuit against a negligent medical professional, you need a North Dakota medical malpractice lawyer. Only someone who specializes in this type of law can help you at this very difficult time in your life. Lawyers who only take medical malpractice cases have the most knowledge and experience and can make sure you have the best possible chance to win justice and recover damages.
North Dakota Medical Malpractice Laws
Relying on a North Dakota medical malpractice lawyer in cases of medical negligence is important for navigating the complex laws that govern these kinds of lawsuits. Every state has its own laws for medical malpractice and personal injury, and it can be difficult for patients and even general lawyers to understand them on a deep level. While patients should rely on their lawyers who specialize in malpractice, they also need to know some of the basics of the laws in order to work with those lawyers and make the best choices.
Especially important to understand for patients is the statute of limitations. This is the time limit the law puts on when a malpractice case can be filed. Victims of negligence do not have an unlimited amount of time to decide to file or not. In North Dakota they only have two years form the time the negligence occurred. Or, under the discovery rule, they have two years from the time the negligence was discovered. In the latter case the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he or she could not have reasonably discovered the mistake sooner.
Even if a patient uses the discovery rule to extend the time limit on filing, there is a hard limit called a statute of repose. A patient has no more than six years from the time the negligence occurred to file a malpractice lawsuit. A minor has no more than 12 years from the incident to file a lawsuit, or one year after a disability has ceased.
Another important law for patients to understand is that an affidavit of merit must be submitted before a lawsuit can be filed in the state. The affidavit must include a statement from a qualified medical expert that the case has merit and that negligence is likely to have occurred in the case. The document has to include details supporting the agreement and prove the expert is qualified.
Damages Caps in North Dakota
Like many states, North Dakota medical malpractice law includes a cap on non-economic damages that patients can recover. These are the costs that cannot be quantified, and include compensation for pain and suffering, loss of companionship, disfigurement, and other factors. Economic damages, which cover specific expenses like lost wages and medical bills, are not capped. However, economic damages that go over $250,000 can be challenged by the defendants.
The cap on non-economic damages in North Dakota was set at $500,000 in 1995. It is controversial because although it is supposed to curb excessive awards and lower the costs of healthcare and malpractice insurance, many see it as a limit on patients’ rights to seek a fair trial and fair compensation. Recently the cap was challenged by a lawsuit that involves a woman who suffered a stroke after a surgical mistake in 2012.
In her lawsuit lawyers successfully proved that the surgeon at St. Alexius Health in Bismarck acted negligently during the procedure. The jury awarded the plaintiff $3.5 million, including $1.5 million in non-economic damages. The judge rejected the defendant’s request to reduce that award down to the $500,000 cap. She stated that the cap was unfair and violated the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. She called the cap arbitrary and stated that it harms the most seriously injured negligence victims. The case is likely to go on to the state Supreme Court.
Medical Malpractice Cases in North Dakota
North Dakota does not see a huge number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed each year. Those that are filed are brought by victims of medical errors and their malpractice lawyers who fight hard to get them the justice they need. These professionals are often willing to take cases all the way to the North Dakota Supreme Court if necessary, as was the situation in one notable case of medical negligence that occurred in 2012.
The case involved a man named Herman Johnson. He had symptoms that included swelling in the legs and confusion. His daughter took him the Mid Dakota Clinic for an appointment, and they arrived a few minutes late. The doctor with whom they had an appointment wouldn’t see them. They were directed to a walk-in clinic or emergency room nearby.
Johnson left with his daughter but fell outside and hit his head. He was treated at the clinic until an ambulance arrived. In the hospital he suffered respiratory distress and died within a few days. His daughter sued the clinic and the doctor who would not see him. She and her lawyer cited the clinic’s policy of not seeing patients who are five minutes late as a breach of the standard of care.
The case was a tricky one to make, and a trial judge found that not seeing the patient was not a breach in the duty to provide care, and therefore not negligence. The legal team took the dismissed case all the way to the state Supreme Court. Unfortunately for the family the court ruled against them, agreeing that the clinic’s policy was not a breach in duty of care.
Finding and Working with a North Dakota Medical Malpractice Lawyer
The above example of a malpractice case is an unfortunate one that did not end in justice for the victim. It was a tricky case to make and difficult to prove negligence, as is often true in these kinds of lawsuits. The laws tend to favor medical professionals over patients, and for these reasons it is essential that if you have been harmed by a medical mistake or oversight, that you find and work with the best North Dakota medical malpractice lawyer you can find.
Start with the state bar association to find a lawyer licensed in the state and who specifically works on malpractice cases. Before choosing your lawyer be sure to ask as many questions as you need. Find out about experiences in court and settlements, how many cases have been won, the damages recovered, and even about referrals from previous clients. When you make the right choice of a lawyer for your malpractice case, you have the best chance of a successful and positive outcome.