April 20, 2021 | Oklahoma Law
All states have statutes of limitations that set deadlines for filing claims for legal actions. These deadlines vary by state. The purpose of a statute of limitations is to ensure that legal claims are brought promptly. Evidence is best preserved, and witnesses’ memories are most reliable, shortly after an accident.
However, some of the deadlines imposed by the statutes of limitations may seem unfair. It could take many months for doctors to determine the full extent of a person’s injuries and damages.
Whether you sustained a broken arm or spinal cord damage that resulted in paralysis, the time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit is likely the same. However, your injuries can significantly impact the timeline of a personal injury case.
Personal Injury Claims and the Oklahoma Statute of Limitations
For most personal injury claims, the statute of limitations starts to run on the date of your injury. Therefore, under Oklahoma tort law, you have two years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, there are exceptions to the general two-year statute of limitations.
If the case involves a government entity, the time to file a claim is much shorter. You must file a notice of claim with the government entity within one year. The government has 90 days to review and respond to your claim. You only have six months after that 90-day period to file a lawsuit.
Minors may have longer to file a personal injury lawsuit. A minor has one year after turning 18 years of age to file a personal injury lawsuit for most personal injury cases. The deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit could be extended if the at-fault party left the state or concealed themselves to avoid being sued.
Another potential exception to the Oklahoma statute of limitations may be found under the discovery rule.
What is the Discovery Rule?
The discovery rule applies in medical malpractice cases. It allows the injured party to bring a legal action within two years of when they discover their injury, which could be much later than the date of the medical mistake that ultimately caused the injury.
The Oklahoma statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims states that actions shall be filed within two years of the date that the person knew or should have known of the existence of the injury or condition.
The reasons for the use of the discovery rule in medical malpractice cases are straightforward. A patient may not discover that they were harmed or injured until much later after the event.
For example, a patient may begin to experience unexplained symptoms a couple of years after surgery. They go to several doctors for treatment, but none of the doctors can diagnose the source of the symptoms. Finally, a doctor orders a series of imagining tests. The doctor discovers that the surgeon left a sponge in the surgical site that has caused severe harm and damage to the patient.
The patient could not have known about the sponge inside their body until they begin experiencing symptoms. Because it took time for a proper diagnosis, the statute of limitations begins to run on the date the patient discovers the cause of their injury.
Exercise of Reasonable Diligence
For the discovery rule to apply, the person must exercise reasonable diligence to discover the injury. The requirement to exercise reasonable diligence could cause the case to be thrown out of court.
For example, suppose a person ignores the signs or symptoms of an injury or condition. In that case, the defendant could argue they did not use reasonable diligence to discover the source of their symptoms. Whether a person used reasonable diligence to discover an injury becomes a question for the jury to decide.
How Can You Avoid a Problem with the Statute of Limitations?
If you do not file a lawsuit before the deadline in the statute of limitations, your case can be thrown out of court. The defendant only needs to raise the defense of an untimely filing. If there is no exception that applies in your case, the defendant wins.
The best way to avoid a problem with filing deadlines is to seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident or injury. An attorney reviews your case and calculates the deadlines for filing claims and lawsuits based on the facts of your case.
If you suspect that a doctor, health care facility, or another medical provider may have caused you harm, seek medical treatment from another provider immediately. Contact an attorney and continue to work with physicians to discover the cause of your symptoms. Prompt medical care and legal advice are the keys to avoiding a statute of limitations problem.