The medical negligence Statute of Limitations was introduced in 1980 as part of the Limitation Act and places a limit on the length of time you have available in which to make compensation claims for medical negligence when you have suffered a loss, an injury or the deterioration of an existing condition due to the negligence of a medical practitioner who owed you a ‘duty of care’.
The imposition of a time limit to claim medical negligence compensation has two purposes – it ensures that claims for compensation are made when evidence of medical negligence is most recent, and it protects medical practitioners from the constant fear of retrospective litigation.
In the UK, the maximum time allowed to make a medical negligence claim for compensation is generally three years. There are exceptions to the medical negligence Statute of Limitations which can reduce or extend the length of time available and, although this page provides valuable information about how your eligibility to claim medical negligence injury compensation can be affected by the Limitations Act, you should always confirm with a solicitor that your claim falls within the time allowed to make a medical negligence claim.
When Does the Time Limit Start?
The time limit to claim medical negligence compensation in the UK starts on the date you are aware that you have sustained an injury or the avoidable deterioration of an existing condition. In most cases of an injury caused by medical negligence, this will be on the day that an injury attributable to medical negligence has been diagnosed rather than on the day the treatment – or lack of it – took place.
This date then becomes known as the ‘Date of Knowledge’ or ‘Date of Discovery’, and it is from this date that the three year medical negligence Statute of Limitations would begin. Three years may seem a considerable amount of time in which to collect the evidence needed to support compensation claims for medical negligence but, as the negligent party may not necessarily be the medical practitioner who attended you, it is always advisable to speak with a solicitor at the first practical moment.
Exceptions to the Medical Negligence Statute of Limitations in the UK
Exceptions to the medical negligence Statute of Limitations in the UK exist when there is a conflict with other legislation, when the person making the claim for medical negligence is not considered capable of supporting their claim or when extraordinary circumstances occur. The following examples are just a selection of occasions when the time allowed to make a medical negligence claim may be changed.
Conflicts with the Consumer Protection Act
If you were to sustain an injury due to faulty medical device, your claim for compensation may be against the manufacturer of the device, rather than the hospital at which you had it fitted or the medical practitioner who oversaw the procedure. You may still be allowed three years in which to make compensation claims for medical negligence provided that the faulty medical device has been in market circulation for less than ten years. However, if you were to sustain an injury due to a manufacturing or design flaw nine years after the product was first introduced into the UK, the time limit to claim medical negligence compensation would be reduced to just one year.
Medical Negligence Injury Claims for Children
It is not possible by law for a child under the age of eighteen to either make compensation claims for medical negligence or to instruct a solicitor to act on their behalf. Therefore, the time allowed to make a medical negligence claim for children does not commence until the child becomes a legal adult. As it is not advisable for compensation claims for medical negligence to be delayed for a considerable period, a parent or guardian is allowed to make a claim on behalf of their child at any time, prior to the child reaching the age of majority.
Catastrophic Brain Injuries and the Mental Health Act
Under the Mental Health Act (1983) an adult claimant must have the mental capacity to make compensation claims for medical negligence. Therefore, if a victim of medical negligence were to be left in a coma, the time limit to claim medical negligence compensation would not begin until they had been recognised as regaining cognitive ability. Should they never regain the cognitive ability to take legal action, a claim for medical negligence compensation can be made on the victim´s behalf by a ‘Litigation Friend’.
Other Extensions to the Medical Negligence Statute of Limitations
In extraordinary circumstances exclusions and exceptions can be made to the medical negligence Statute of Limitations. Only a court in the UK has the authority to extend the time allowed to make a medical negligence claim, although there is a concept in law known as a “Standstill Agreement” which effectively stops the time limit to claim medical negligence compensation should all parties concerned in the action agree.
Medical Negligence Statute of Limitations — Summary
It is often important to consider the time allowed to make a medical negligence claim to prevent your claim being time-barred by the medical negligence Statute of Limitations. Three years may seem like ample time to prepare a claim for medical negligence injury compensation ; however, when the long term effects of medical negligence have to be considered to ensure that a claimant is appropriately compensated, three years may sometimes be completely inadequate.
As mentioned above, there are several scenarios in which the time limit to claim medical negligence can be changed, and therefore it is always advisable to speak with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity after you or somebody close to you have suffered a loss, an injury or the avoidable deterioration of an existing condition due to a medical practitioner´s lack of care.