The number of lawsuits filed for medical negligence in South Dakota is relatively low. In 2015 the state ranked just 47th out of all 50 states with only 12 medical malpractice cases filed per 100,000 people. The total payout from those lawsuits was also low in 2015, at just $5.7 million, a small amount compared to most other states. It dropped even lower in 2016, to less than $2 million.

If you were harmed because of a medical mistake, there is a good chance that you are a victim of negligence. You have a right to sue in the state to recover damages and to hold the responsible person or facility accountable. Because the laws can be complex and difficult to navigate, rely on the guidance and experience of one of the South Dakota medical malpractice lawyers who specializes in this area of the law.

Medical Malpractice Laws in South Dakota

All states set their own malpractice laws, and while they can be confusing it is important for patients to be aware of the laws and what their rights are if they are harmed by a medical professional. South Dakota medical malpractice lawyers are available to lend expertise, but patients should also feel empowered to exercise their rights.

Important to understand especially is the statute of limitations, which puts a time limit on when patients can file malpractice lawsuits. Patients have just two years from the time of the incidence of negligence. The two-year time limit can begin at the time the negligence was discovered, as long as the plaintiff can prove that the error could not have been found earlier.

Patients should also know that if they are at all negligent in the harm caused to them, it may result in a reduction of damages. If the fault is found to be less than or equal to that of the defendant, the patient can still recover damages, but they can be reduced in proportion to the degree of blame. With a greater degree of blame, the plaintiff may not be able to recover damages at all.

South Dakota Damages Cap Challenged

South Dakota instituted a cap, or a limit, on the amount of non-economic damages a patient could recover in a malpractice lawsuit in the 1970s. The cap was set at $500,000 for factors that cannot be monetized, like disfigurement or suffering. Economic damages for specific costs have never been capped in South Dakota.

The non-economic damages cap was put in place by the state legislature in 1976 after a crisis in medical malpractice insurance. Because there was no limit on what victims could recover, some of the damages awards were very high. The insurance company that underwrote most of the malpractice polices in the state decided not to issue any new polices to doctors and even threatened to leave the state altogether. The cap was intended to keep insurance in the state and reasonable.

The problem with the cap was that it limited what true victims of catastrophic injuries could recover in damages. Advocates for patients have criticized the law for further harming these victims. Furthermore, with limited damages, it is harder and harder for patients who suffered from negligence to find lawyers to represent them. Medical malpractice lawyers have to put a lot of time and money into these cases, and if the payouts aren’t large enough it isn’t possible to represent some victims. Since 1976 the state has failed to increase the damages cap at all, even to account for inflation.

In 2008 a family whose child had severe brain damage after a negligent hospital error felt that $500,000 was inadequate to compensate for her suffering. Another case challenged the cap and went all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court, winning a ruling that declared the cap unconstitutional. In that case the woman suffered a serious stroke because of a surgical error and was left permanently impaired. A jury awarded her $1.5 million in non-economic damages. The defendants asked for it to be reduced to $500,000 but the woman’s lawyers pushed the case to the highest court and won for her.

South Dakota Medical Malpractice Cases

The number of actual lawsuits filed in the state is limited, but one recent group of lawsuits being brought by several patients and their malpractice lawyers is making news. The cases began with a win for a deceased patient’s family in 2013. The woman had undergone surgery led by Dr. Allen Sosson and soon after died. The family successfully sued; the jury found the doctor negligent in performing spinal fusions that were not necessary and awarded the family nearly $1 million.

Since then several patients or the families of deceased patients have filed lawsuits against Dr. Sosson for surgical mistakes and negligence. There are more than three dozen cases pending or completed against him. Along with the surgeon, these lawsuits name more than 12 other doctors who were negligent, according to the lawyers and families, in giving this doctor credentials and surgical privileges.

Dr. Sosson faces a lot of lawsuits from patients and their families, which may result in significant damages awards. He may also face criminal charges, as his staff has claimed that he engaged in fraudulent billing and performed unneeded surgeries just to make more money. It is this last factor that likely caused negligent harm, and deaths, to so many patients.

Another surgeon was sued successfully for damages after botching a procedure at Rapid City Regional Hospital. The surgeon performed heart valve replacement surgery on a patient who was just 21 years old. Air bubbles got into the man’s arteries and caused serious brain damage. The jury awarded the man and his family a record $13.4 million in economic damages because of high medical bills, future medical needs, and the loss of a lifetime of earnings.

Working with a South Dakota Medical Malpractice Lawyer

In 2016, about 65 percent of all medical malpractice claims in the state were dropped or dismissed. This statistic reflects how difficult it can be for a victim of negligence to make a successful case and to navigate the laws, which often favor the medical professionals over their patients. While some cases are dropped for truly being without merit, those who have valid cases struggle to make it through the system. This is why, if you have suffered from a medical error, you need the guidance of an experienced South Dakota medical malpractice lawyer.

These professionals have the actual experience and deep knowledge of the laws in the state and know how to fight on the side of victims. Look for a lawyer who only focuses on medical malpractice because you need that specialized expertise. Feel free to ask your lawyer specific questions before hiring him or her to represent you, including questions about previous cases, how they turned out, and how many cases they have won or lost. When you are comfortable with your lawyer, you will have the best chance of a good working relationship and a positive outcome for your case.