If you live in Arizona and you're thinking about filing an injury claim over medical malpractice, there are a few state laws to keep in mind. In this article, we'll take a closer look at some of those laws, including time limits for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Arizona.
Time Limits for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits in Arizona
All states have very specific deadlines for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be somewhat complex because they may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines.
The Standard Deadline
The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice a certain number of years after the malpractice occurred within which to file a lawsuit. The standard deadline in Arizona is two years. So, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years, you lose your right to sue for medical malpractice relating to the incident in question unless you fall within one of the exceptions, which we'll discuss in the sections below.
The Discovery Rule
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case. In Arizona, the discovery rule delays the commencement of the statute of limitations until the date that the medical malpractice victim knew or reasonably should have known that he/she has a potential claim for medical malpractice.
Statute of Limitations for Minor Children
The third part of the statute of limitations is the deadline for minors (children under age 18) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In Arizona, the statute of limitations for minor children does not begin running until the child’s eighteenth birthday.
Arizona has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances. For example, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was mentally ill or mentally disabled.
The Arizona statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Arizona Revised Statutes sections 12-542 and 12-502.
No Limits on Medical Malpractice Damages in Arizona
Some states have caps or limits in the amount of the damages that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. In Arizona, there is no cap on damages. In fact, Arizona's state constitution specifically prohibits such caps in civil cases.
Shared Fault Rules in Arizona Medical Malpractice Cases
In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing or contributing to your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor’s instructions. If you go to trial and are found to be partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
Arizona follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule. This means that, if you are found to be in part negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000.
Other Key Arizona Medical Malpractice Laws
Many states have passed laws requiring plaintiffs’ lawyers in medical malpractice cases to submit some proof of the defendant’s negligence at the beginning of the case before they will be allowed to proceed with the lawsuit. This proof is usually in the form of a report containing the opinion of a physician that the defendant was negligent.
In Arizona, the plaintiff’s lawyer in a medical malpractice lawsuit must file a written certification as to whether he/she believes that medical expert testimony is necessary to prove the defendant’s negligence.
If the lawyer certifies that expert opinion testimony is necessary, the lawyer must file preliminary affidavits as to the defendant’s negligence from as many medical experts as he/she deems necessary to prove liability.
If the plaintiff’s attorney certifies that expert testimony is not required, and the defendant’s attorney objects to that certification, the court can order the plaintiff’s attorney to get expert affidavits before the plaintiff will be allowed to continue with the lawsuit.
Another important law has to do with who can testify as to the negligence of the defendant physician. In order to be permitted to testify that the defendant was negligent in a medical malpractice case in Arizona, the expert witness must be a specialist in the same field as the defendant. If the defendant is board certified in a particular field, the plaintiff’s expert witness must also be board certified in that same field.
The expert witness cannot just be a professional expert. The expert must also be an active physician in the defendant’s field or specialty or a professor of medicine in the same specialty as the defendant. If the defendant is a general practitioner, then the expert witness must be either an active general practitioner or a professor of general medicine.
This law can be found at Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-2604.