North Carolina Medical Malpractice: Statute of Limitations and Award Limits


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North Carolina has several laws that apply specifically to medical malpractice claims filed in the state. We’ll examine a few key medical malpractice laws in this article, starting with North Carolina’s time limits for filing med mal claims in court. We’ll also look at the state’s caps on damages and other rules that apply to North Carolina medical malpractice claims.

Time Limits for North Carolina Medical Malpractice Claims

North Carolina sets a time limit, or “statute of limitations,” on filing medical malpractice lawsuits in the state's civil court system. While the state has a statute of limitations that applies to all types of personal injury claims, it has specific rules that apply to medical malpractice suits. These include:

  • Three years after the date of injury or death.
  • one year after the date the injury is discovered, if it could not have reasonably been discovered when it occurred. However, cases like these must be brought within four years of the commission of the alleged malpractice.
  • One year after the date of discovery if an object is left inside a person -- for instance, during surgery. However, this case must be brought within ten years of the date on which the mistake was made.

It's crucial to pay attention to the statute of limitations as it applies to your case. If you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline has passed, the court will throw out your case and you'll lose your right to any civil remedy for medical malpractice.

Damage Caps in North Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases

North Carolina, like many states, sets limits on the non-economic damages that are available to a successful plaintiff in a medical malpractice case.

Non-economic damages include compensation for non-monetary losses like pain and suffering or the loss of enjoyment of life caused by the medical malpractice. In 2011, North Carolina passed a law limiting non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $500,000. Beginning in 2014, this amount is adjusted upward for inflation each year. This cap will not apply in cases where the injured patient suffered certain disfiguring or permanent injury AND the defendant's conduct was reckless, grossly negligent, intentional, or malicious.

(Learn more about Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases.)

North Carolina does not limit economic damages, which cover losses like medical expenses and lost wages stemming from the malpractice. However, North Carolina does require two separate trials to be held if the amount of damages claimed is greater than $150,000. One trial focuses on liability, while the other focuses on the amount of damages. Both trials are heard by the same jury and judge. These two trials may be combined into a single trial if the judge finds good cause to take that step.

Evidence Requirements in N.C. Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

North Carolina has two laws that relate specifically to the use and amount of evidence required in a medical malpractice case.

The first rule requires the injured person to employ the services of at least one expert medical witness. In a sworn affidavit filed with the court, the expert must swear under oath that he or she has reviewed the injured person’s medical records and is prepared to testify that the medical care the injured person received fell below the accepted standard of care and amounted to medical negligence.

The second evidentiary rule applies to the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases. In most cases, an injured person must prove by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it was “more likely than not,” that the failure to meet the standard of care caused his or her injuries. In cases involving emergency room malpractice in North Carolina, however, an injured person must show negligence by “clear and convincing” evidence.

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