Utah medical malpractice law is highly regulated. Damage caps on non-economic damages, caps on attorneys’ fees and no mandatory provider insurance requirements make Utah a pretty defendant-friendly state. If you're thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Utah, you may be in for an uphill battle. Read on for the details.
Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in Utah
The medical malpractice statute of limitations in Utah is two years from the date an injury was or should have been discovered. There is a “maximum” limit of four years, meaning that no case can be filed more than four years from the date of the injury, even if the injury was discovered one day before the four year period expires. (Learn more about the discovery rule and the statute of limitations.)
In cases of medical malpractice resulting in wrongful death, the regular medical malpractice statute of limitations applies. This is important to note, because Utah has a separate wrongful death statute of limitations for all other tort matters. The general wrongful death statute does not supersede the medical malpractice statute of limitations.
Notice and Expert Requirements in Utah Medical Malpractice Cases
Utah requires all potential claimants to file a notice of intent to commence a lawsuit (NOI) for review by a “pre-litigation panel.” Note that cases of dental malpractice are not subject to the NOI requirement. The NOI process is an informal one, and it is not binding. The findings of NOI panels are not admissible if a claim proceeds to the lawsuit phase. If all parties agree, the NOI hearing may be waived or converted to binding arbitration.
While Utah has not codified any medical expert witness requirements, cases decided in the state have evolved to the point where expert testimony is required at trial to establish a violation of the medical standard of care.
As is the case in many states, there are no expert requirements for cases involving facts so simple a layman can understand them. As a practical matter, this generally means that cases involving foreign objects, mistaken amputations and the like don’t require expert testimony. (Learn more about expert witness testimony in medical malpractice cases.)
Damage Caps and Fault
Utah has a restrictive non-economic damages cap for medical malpractice cases. While economic damages (wage loss, medical expenses and other quantifiable losses) are not capped, non-economic damages (which includes compensation for pain and suffering) are capped at $450,000 in Utah. Certainly, this is a difficult pill to swallow for victims suffering from catastrophic injuries. $450,000 over the course of a lifetime could provide very little solace when dealing with severe injury or disfigurement. That number was much lower when initially implemented in 1996, and has been adjusted for inflation over the last 17 years.
Utah utilizes a modified form of comparative negligence when figuring out fault in medical malpractice cases. Similar to several other states, Utah provides that a claimant’s own negligence may serve to bar recovery if their percentage of fault equals or exceeds the combined fault of all other defendants in the lawsuit.
Also in Utah, there is an "immunity from liability" issue that comes into play most frequently in cases involving emergency care. Utah grants health care providers immunity from suit for any care they provide, for free, at the scene of an emergency. This immunity does not apply if the defendant is under a legal duty to respond.
Utah has eliminated "joint and several" liability, meaning that a defendant in a medical malpractice case is not liable for any portion of a verdict in excess of his or her own percentage of fault. Non-parties (whether they are immune from suit or simply not sued in a given case) are also assigned a percentage of fault. The share of fault assigned to an immune party is re-allocated among the defendants who are without immunity, as long as the immune party’s fault does not exceed 40%. In cases in which the claimant is assigned a percentage of fault, there award is reduced by their percentage of fault.
Malpractice Insurance and the Patient Compensation Fund
Utah has absolutely no mandatory insurance requirements for health care providers, and does not have any type of patient compensation fund. These provisions, along with the cap on non-economic damages, create a litigation environment that is relatively hostile to medical malpractice plaintiffs. While claims involving relatively small dollar amounts can normally be paid out by individual physicians without insurance, catastrophic or high value claimants could find themselves out of luck when attempting to collect from an uninsured physician. (Learn more about thedebate over medical malpractice tort reform.)