Statutes of limitations limit the amount of for commencing a lawsuit to a certain period of time following the events creating the cause of action. More specifically, Minnesota Statute section 541.076 requires a patient or former patient to commence malpractice actions against a health care provider within four years from the date of cause of action accrued, or the negligent treatment occurred.
So when does the clock start ticking in Minnesota? Generally, the four year time limit starts on the date of negligent treatment because Minnesota courts are fairly strict about interpreting this statute in comparison to other jurisdictions. For example, other jurisdictions incorporate exceptions in the medical malpractice context such the discovery rule. Under the discovery rule, the limitations period does not begin until a patient discovered or should have discovered the injury. Another exception is the foreign object exception, which tolls the statute when a foreign object is found inside the body of a patient. Minnesota courts have not adopted the foreign object exception and have explicitly declined to adopt the discovery rule.
Despite the differences with other jurisdictions, Minnesota courts have created two tolling doctrines that delay the accrual of the statutory period in medical malpractice actions to balance concerns about the potentially harsh effects of the limitations statute: the fraudulent concealment and continuing course of treatment doctrines.
Under the fraudulent concealment doctrine, the statute of limitations is delayed when a negligent provider uses fraudulent means to prevent a potential plaintiff from obtaining knowledge of their cause of action. The statute of limitations will start to run only from the time the party discovers the cause of action or would have discovered it through reasonable diligence. Although Minnesota courts have not definitively defined what constitutes fraudulent concealment, courts have noted that the fraudulent concealment must be intentional, or involve affirmative action to conceal the negligence.
The other exception, the continuing course of treatment doctrine, allows the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice action to begin upon the termination of the provider’s treatment of the patient. Under this doctrine, the statute of limitations is tolled until the negligent physician discontinues treatment for the injury that formed the basis for the cause of action. A practical reason for this general rule is that the actionable treatment does not ordinarily consist of a single act or, even if it does, it is most difficult to determine the precise time of its occurrence. When determining if treatment ceased, courts consider three factors: (1) whether there is a relationship between physician and patient with regard to the illness; (2) whether the physician is attending and examining the patient; and (3) whether there is something more to be done.
It is important to note that Minnesota courts will not apply the continuing course of treatment doctrine when the alleged malpractice consists of a single negligent act that is complete at a precise time. Id. The following elements must be present for this “single-act” exception to apply: (1) a single act (2) which is complete at a precise time, (3) which no continued course of treatment can either cure or relieve, and (4) where the plaintiff is actually aware of the facts upon which the claim is based. When these elements are present, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the alleged negligent act, or at the latest, when the damage from the alleged event of malpractice occurs.
As demonstrated above, determining how much time you have to file a medical malpractice action often involves complex analysis of the specific facts and sequence of events in a particular case. In addition, the rules described above continue to develop though litigation as Minnesota appellate courts issue decision. Accordingly, it is important to consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney when you suspect medical malpractice may have occurred. Our attorneys have analyzed hundreds of cases and obtained verdicts for victims of medical malpractice. If you believe you or a loved one has experienced negligent medical care, contact an attorney at Hansen Dordell to discuss your claim and avoid losing your opportunity to be heard because of the statute of limitations.