Most of us have all had an experience at a hospital, whether with a loved one or ourselves. But unfortunately, not all experiences go as planned, whether it's an issue with a nurse administering the wrong medicine, a doctor incorrectly diagnosing a patient, or a surgical error.

Reasons You Would Sue

Unfortunately, doctors, nurses, and staff members are prone to human error. In a hospital setting, that human error, no matter how slight, can lead to significant injury or the death of a patient.

You could file a lawsuit against a hospital if you or your loved one suffered injury as a result of:

  • misdiagnosis or medical treatment from doctors
  • a nurse administering the wrong dosage or wrong medication
  • a medical technician's failure to follow protocol
  • significant surgical errors
  • Negligent actions by staff members (i.e., leaving floors wet, reusing equipment, or stealing medication)
  • Discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Statute of Limitations: How It Varies Between States

statute of limitations is the period you have from an event (in this case, medical injury or death) to file a lawsuit.

Every state has different laws regarding the statute of limitations. For example, some states, such as California, have a two-year statute of limitations for civil cases (oral). However, Rhode Island has a 10-year statute of limitations. 

How to Identify Who is Responsible?

It's important to know who is responsible for the medical injury or death so that you can sue the appropriate individual or facility. Whether to sue the employee responsible (doctor, nurse, surgeon, etc.) or the hospital is complex, and the choice depends on your situation. 

It would seem logical to sue the individual that caused harm, but unfortunately, that's not always the case.

If the employee who caused the medical issue or death is a hospital employee, you can usually sue either the hospital or the employee.

Conversely, many doctors don't work for the hospital directly; they are independent contractors. Because they work as independent contractors, you can't sue the hospital, only the doctor.

What Evidence Do You Need to Document Your Claim?

The list below outlines the evidence needed to document your claim:

  • Photographs of the injured patient before and after the incident
  • Medical bills
  • Correspondence from insurance or Medicare/Medicaid
  • Receipts for out-of-pocket expenses related to injury
  • Tax returns or pay stubs to show loss of income (if applicable)
  • Patient's medical records
  • Any communication with the doctor

What is the Process for Filing Court Documents?

If the individual's injury cost was potentially less than $20,000 (this varies by state), you could file in a small claims court rather than in a civil court.

Small claims courts are more accessible because:

  • You can defend yourself without a lawyer
  • The process is more straightforward and generally faster
  • The process is less expensive

Most courts post instructions on their websites for filing court documents. However, without a lawyer, the education and forms can get confusing.

Not only does each state have different rules with the statute of limitations, but each court within the state has a different process.

Without a layer, it's recommended to use an online filing service.

An EFSP (Electronic Filing Service Provider) provides a traditional service of process and e-service and will typically have a better understanding of the inner workings of the courts than an individual without a lawyer. Not only that, but the convenience of not having to make multiple trips to the courthouse to file documents or send documents via certified mail is worth it. Consider filing with Dispute and let us take care of your filing for you.

What Are Other Essential Steps?

An increasing number of jurisdictions require individuals to obtain a "certificate of merit" to prove that the injuries they incurred were caused by the negligence of a health care practitioner. 

You must first contact an expert, generally another physician, to file a certificate of merit. This expert will examine your medical records and declare that your injuries were caused by the original health care provider's deviation from accepted medical practices.

Once you have the certificate of merit, you can submit it to the court.

How to Prepare For Trial

  1. Type up a brief and clear statement of the facts. Verify dates with any supporting documents.
  2. Put together any documentation that will potentially help your case. If you're not sure, bring it anyway. Make three copies of each document, just in case.
  3. If anyone can verify your claim, you can ask them to be witnesses or subpoena them to come to court as witnesses.
  4. Type an outline of your argument, so you are prepared.
  5. Identify questions for the witnesses (if applicable)