Understanding medical malpractice claims in California

Victims of negligence in California should know the state’s laws regarding the deadline to file a claim, what must be proven and what damages may be.

Someone who is ill or injured should expect to receive the standard of care when going to a medical facility in California. Unfortunately, professionals in these settings can act negligently, resulting in the patient experiencing a worsened condition.

When that occurs, California law enables victims to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. There are several key points that plaintiffs alleging medical negligence should know.

Is there a deadline to file a lawsuit?

Yes. According to California law, victims have one year from the date that they knew about or should have known about their injury to file a claim for medical negligence, or three years from the date of the injury. The earlier date will be the deadline for filing the lawsuit.

How do I prove medical malpractice?

There are a number of points that a plaintiff will have to prove in order to hold a medical professional or facility accountable for damages. First, there must have been a relationship between the doctor or facility and the patient. This establishes that the party had a duty of care to the patient.

Other points include the following:

  • That the physician or facility deviated from a standard of care
  • That the deviation caused the injury
  • That the injury led to the damages the plaintiff is claiming

A standard of care can be illustrated through gathering testimony from expert witnesses, such as another doctor who practices the same type of medicine at a similar facility. That person will testify as to how the defendant should have acted.

What damages are available?

Several types of damages are available in a medical malpractice case. Economic damages are those that refer to the financial losses a victim suffers, such as medical bills, rehabilitation, prescriptions and time missed from work. Noneconomic damages are non-quantitative and include pain and suffering.

Lastly, there are punitive damages, which are meant as a punishment to an especially negligent defendant. For example, if an infant suffers a birth injury because a physician purposefully did not order a Cesarean section in time, a judge could order the physician to pay punitive damages.

Is there a cap on damages?

California does limit the amount of money that a plaintiff may receive for noneconomic damages. According to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which was passed in 1975, the amount of noneconomic damages a victim may receive is limited to $250,000.

Medical malpractice cases require a keen knowledge of state and federal laws as well as experience navigating these highly complex matters. Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with a personal injury attorney in California.