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Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in Texas

In Texas, a statute of limitation refers to the period in which a lawsuit must be filed in court. This means that an injured party (the plaintiff) cannot bring an action to recover damages after the stipulated deadline has passed. A lawsuit filed after the statute of limitation expires may therefore be dismissed in court for being statute-barred. There are different statutes of limitations in Texas for various types of civil actions, including medical malpractice lawsuits.

Generally, under Texas law and Texas civil practice, all personal injury claims should be filed within two years. Once this deadline expires, Texas courts dismiss such claims on grounds of being statute-barred. A claim dismissed based on the statute of limitations usually ends with prejudice. This means the plaintiff cannot bring another case arising from the same event. In the case of a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is important to note that insurers do not usually consider or settle time-barred claims. This prevents the plaintiff from recovering compensation from the at-fault party.

What is the Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitation period in Texas?

Under Chapter 74.251 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, there is a general two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Texas. This means that an injured party must file a malpractice suit against a medical provider within two years after the negligent act or omission occurred. For example, if the plaintiff was injured due to a surgical error that occurred on 2 June 2018, they have until 2 June 2020 to file a medical malpractice lawsuit under the Texas statute of limitations. Failure to file an action within this period would result in the claim being statute-barred and dismissed in court. 

Does Texas Make Exceptions for Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations?

Texas law provides for exceptions to the general statute of limitation rule for medical malpractice cases. Some of these exceptions include;

  • Children: In the case of medical malpractice cases involving a child under the age of 12, the lawsuit must be filed by the child's 14th birthday. Texas law further provides that a child's parents are entitled to file a lawsuit for medical expenses of a child below 18 years old. This claim is, however, subject to the general two-year statute of limitations in Texas.
  • The continuing course of treatment: Another exception to the Texas medical malpractice statute of limitations is in the case where there is a continuing course of treatment. If the malpractice occurred due to continuing treatment over some time, the injured party can argue that the two-year statute of limitations period did not start running from the beginning of the treatment but towards the end.
  • Cases involving government employees: Under Texas law, an injured party bringing medical malpractice claims against government employees must provide notice of the claim to the government within six months after the injury occurred. Since many hospitals and medical clinics in Texas are run by the state government, an injured patient must submit their notice of claim as soon as possible to preserve their right to sue. 
  • Undiscovered negligence: Texas provides for some circumstances when a patient can still file a medical malpractice lawsuit if they did not discover the medical negligence within the two-year statute of limitations period. Under the Open Courts provision of the Texas Constitution, an injured party must file a medical malpractice suit within a "reasonable time" after the discovery of malpractice. Since what constitutes "reasonable time" varies in different cases, it is essential to file a claim as soon as possible if an injury resulting from medical malpractice is discovered after the two-year statute of limitations expires.It is important to note that the Texas Open Courts Provision does not apply to injury discovered before the two-year limitation period.

Other special rules modify the two-year statute of limitations, and this can be seen in the case of incapacitated individuals or situations where there is fraudulent concealment by the healthcare provider. In the case of medical malpractice resulting in a coma, vegetative state, or serious cognitive disability, Texas courts do not allow the statute of limitations to run indefinitely. However, the statute of limitations may be paused during this period of incapacitation. 

Concerning fraudulent concealment, the applicable limitation period is tolled until the injured patient can reasonably discover their case. Fraudulent concealment arises when a physician lies about or covers up their errors to avoid liability. Some medical providers may decide to conceal their malpractice by altering the patient's medical records or lying about why they failed to conduct certain tests or make certain diagnoses. To prove the defendant's fraudulent concealment, the plaintiff is required to show:

  • Actual knowledge of a mistake or negligent conduct
  • A fixed purpose to conceal the mistake or negligence
  • The mistake or medical negligence was concealed
  • That the plaintiff reasonably relied upon the facts that were concealed.

Does Texas Have a Discovery Rule in Medical Malpractice?

Yes. Texas has a discovery rule in medical malpractice cases which serves as an exception to the general two-year statute of limitations. This discovery rule gives an injured patient two years from the date they discovered their injury (or reasonably should have discovered it) to file an action, rather than from the date the medical negligence occurred.

However, it is important to note that this exception only applies to hidden or delayed injuries resulting from the negligent conduct of a healthcare provider. For example, if a surgeon negligently leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or gauze in a patient's body during surgery, the patient may not discover this negligence for four years until they begin to suffer severe pain or other symptoms as a result of the retained object. In this case, the patient may apply the discovery rule to show that time began to run from the moment they discovered the medical error rather than the time the error occurred. 

To successfully apply the discovery rule, the plaintiff must prove reasonable diligence. This means that the injured patient is aware or reasonably should have been aware of the medical negligence. The patient does not need to have full awareness of the negligent conduct of the healthcare provider. It is sufficient that there were signs and symptoms of a problem that would have caused a reasonably prudent person to seek medical care. 

The test of reasonable diligence also extends to whether the patient had filed a medical malpractice lawsuit within a reasonable amount of time. While there is no definite answer on what constitutes a reasonable amount of time to file a claim, injured patients may have better success if they find medical malpractice lawyers that can provide them with guidance and legal advice. They can also help file their claims as quickly as possible to prevent the claim from being statute-barred.

What is the Medical Malpractice Statute of Repose?

The Texas statute of repose is a complete bar on any medical malpractice claim that is filed after ten years. This means that any Texas medical malpractice lawsuit filed more than ten years after the negligent act or omission occurred will be barred and dismissed in court.

The plaintiff, therefore, loses their right to sue once this deadline expires. Since the statute of repose conflicts with both the discovery rule and the statute of limitations for children, it is advisable to hire a qualified medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible in respect of medical malpractice cases involving a child.

How Can You Toll the Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in Texas?

Under Texas law, an injured patient can toll the medical malpractice statute of limitations by sending a written notice to the negligent healthcare provider within the two-year limitation period. The tolling extends for 75 days following the giving of the notice and applies to all parties and potential parties involved in the medical malpractice case.

Can a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help After the Statute of Limitation Expires

When faced with questions relating to the Texas medical malpractice statute of limitation, contacting a medical malpractice law firm can be the quickest and easiest way to get some answers. Law firms with medical malpractice practices consist of lawyers with deep knowledge of the civil laws and regulations in Texas and the skill to weigh each client's unique situation in light of applicable laws.

Also, depending on the circumstances of the case, a malpractice attorney may be able to help an injured patient even after the Texas statute of limitations has passed. This is because different situations may pause or extend the limitation period in a medical malpractice claim. Since the Texas medical malpractice statute of limitations can be quite complex, it is important to consult with an experienced and qualified medical malpractice lawyer that understands the complex Texas state laws and can protect the legal rights of their client. A medical malpractice law firm with competent attorneys can assign the claimant an experienced medical malpractice attorney that knows how to analyze their client's case to see if they fall within the stipulated exceptions for the Texas medical malpractice statute of limitations. Such an attorney has the requisite knowledge and skills to argue that certain factors (such as time of discovery, age, and disability of the plaintiff, or the defendant's fraudulent concealment) paused the statute of limitations. 

It is advisable to hire a Texas medical malpractice lawyer as quickly as possible to prevent the case from being statute-barred and dismissed in court. It is also advisable to file a medical malpractice claim within the stipulated statute of limitations and not take chances of relying on potential tolling mechanisms such as the discovery rule. In the case where the plaintiff discovers medical negligence after the limitation period expires, there is a need to inform a medical negligence lawyer immediately to preserve their right to sue in court. 

To find medical malpractice law firms and attorneys in Texas, concerned individuals may simply search online for terms such as "medical malpractice lawyers near me" or "malpractice attorneys near me." The search engine usually provides results to the online pages or websites of law firms and attorneys who handle medical malpractice cases. These websites contain the contact information, credentials, and case history of the medical malpractice lawyers. Interested parties may also ask for a referral from family and friends who have had similar medical malpractice cases in the past and have had to enlist the services of a malpractice lawyer. In addition, concerned individuals may visit the Texas state bar association website or use the lawyer referral services of local bar associations within their area. These websites also provide the contact information and license status of attorneys who practice in the medical malpractice field in Texas.