How Long Do I Have to Sue My Doctor in Salt Lake City?

If you have been injured by your doctor’s negligence in Salt Lake City, but do not know whether you have enough time to sue, this article might help.  Many injuries sustained from medical malpractice are not obvious, and may not even be discovered for years.  You may think that your injury was just a normal side-effect of the procedure, or you may not even know that a surgical device was left inside you. A skilled Salt Lake City medical malpractice attorney can help you navigate your negligence law suit.

Because the process is very case-specific and there might be ways to stretch deadlines, it is important to check with a lawyer about the specifics of your case.  In general, though, there are certain rules in Utah about when a case needs to be filed.  There are also general laws regarding when the deadline might be extended.

General Deadlines: Statute of Limitations

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Many lawsuits are limited as to how long after the events you can start a lawsuit.  In general, there are different limits for negligence cases, cases regarding intentional actions, contracts cases, etc.  These limiting rules are called “statutes of limitations,” and are designed so that people only have a reasonable amount of time to start a lawsuit.

Without statutes of limitations, there would be a possibility that, even decades after the events occur, you could be sued.  That would mean the fight on the playground that no one really remembers could put you in court in your 50’s.  The problem with that sort of situation would be that, not only has evidence likely been thrown away or lost to time, but memory becomes hazy and people forget the details.  These issues make it hard to prove a case, and difficult for potential defendants to get away from mistakes of the past.

Fortunately, there are statutes of limitations, but they often lead to problems for patients who have been injured when seeking medical care.  In general, Title 78B of the Utah Code § 3-4-404(1) gives a two year deadline to start a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare provider.  This is just the basic deadline, though, and there are ways that that can be extended.

Extending the Deadline

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Because many malpractice injuries are not easily discovered, especially by a patient who is going through a sometimes lengthy recovery process and likely has no medical training.  This may be even more difficult if the patient has died.  Because of this, there is a possibility for extension built into the rule.

That two year deadline in § 3-4-404(1) has a built-in extension process.  Rather than that two year period starting from the date of the surgery or incident, the two year period starts to run when the injury is discovered, or should have been discovered.  So, if you are injured during surgery, but then do not realize it until a year later, the clock starts a year after the surgery.  Similarly, if you wake up from surgery and think something is probably wrong, but ignore the problem, the clock will likely start earlier because it “should have been discovered.”

This delay in starting the statute of limitations clock is called “tolling” the statute of limitations.  Because of the same considerations on a basic statute of limitations (evidence or memory getting lost over time), there is a hard limit on how long the statute of limitations can be tolled.  Even if there is a delay in discovering your injury, § 3-4-404(1) puts a hard limit that you cannot start a lawsuit more than four years after the injury occurred.  That means that you must discover your injury and begin the suit within four years, or you cannot take it to court.

This also applies for obvious injuries.  It will also be deemed that something “should have been discovered” if it is very obvious.  For example, if you wake up from heart surgery and your entire right arm is permanently numb, and was not numb before surgery, the clock will likely start running when you wake up.  The law will not allow you to wait three years before getting a second opinion to confirm the problem exists, and then start a suit.

  • 3-4-404(2) creates two more exceptions that extend the deadline.  The first removes that four year hard limit for cases involving items left in the body during surgery.  Instead, it may take years or decades to discover an injury like that, so you have one year after discovery to start a suit.

If your health care provider hid the fact of your injury by actually lying to conceal the injury, then that hard limit is also lifted.  If the reason you never discovered an injury is because your doctor has lied to you, that will not count against you.  Instead, you have one year after discovering the lie to start a lawsuit.

A Salt Lake City Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You Discover What Your Case is Worth

Because of these sometimes short limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, if you think you may have been injured by your healthcare provider, you should call a personal injury lawyer immediately.  Darwin Overson is an experienced Salt Lake City medical malpractice lawyer currently accepting new clients who have medical malpractice claims against their physicians.  If you need a medical malpractice lawyer, do not delay.  Call (801) 895-3143 for a free consultation.


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