Consider this scenario:
You were recently involved in a car accident that was not your fault. You were injured and have, therefore, incurred some medical expenses and had to take some time off of work, resulting in lost wages. Your injuries have hindered you from engaging in your normal day-to-day activities. You’ve started to receive medical/ambulance bills, letters from insurance companies, etc.
Or perhaps you think you may have a claim for medical or dental malpractice…
What do you do next? How do you go about getting compensated for your injuries?
Unfortunately, these situations are all too common. The underlying incident itself is a continuous source of stress, and trying to navigate the process of submitting an insurance claim or filing a lawsuit becomes even more overwhelming. Most people, understandably, don’t know the statute of limitations on a personal injury or medical/dental malpractice claim, nor do they understand how subrogation interests work or what “subrogation” even means (LINK TO SUBROGATION BLOG ENTRY). This is where having an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to represent your interests and help you navigate these processes can truly be invaluable.
Statute of Limitations
First, the law requires you to bring any claims you have within a certain period of time, referred to as a “statute of limitations.” For personal injury and medical/dental malpractice claims, the statutes of limitations are relatively short. If you aren’t aware of this, it is easy to miss out on your opportunity to bring your claims. In Ohio, you have two years for personal injury and only one year for medical/dental malpractice. O.R.C. 2305.10(A); O.R.C. 2305.113(A).
When Time Starts to Accrue and the Discovery Rule
For personal injury claims, such as a car accident, the clock generally starts to run the moment that the incident occurs. However, for medical/dental malpractice, the law recognizes a “discovery rule.” The discovery rule operates to toll the statute of limitations so that it does not begin to run until you “discover” the negligence that gives rise to the claim. See Oliver v. Kaiser Cmty. Health Found., 5 Ohio St. 3d 111, 113 (1983). The discovery rule is justified in these types of cases because “[t]hat [the plaintiff] has been injured in fact may be unknown or unknowable until the injury manifests itself; and the facts about causation may be in the control of the putative defendant, unavailable to the plaintiff or at least very difficult to obtain.” Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549, 556 (2000). In simpler terms, you may not even know something is wrong (for example, that your doctor missed a diagnosis or left a surgical instrument inside of you during an operation) until months or even years later – the law does not hold that time during which you didn’t know anything was wrong against you. However, the discovery rule does not extend to “a plaintiff’s ignorance of his legal rights,” but only “his ignorance of the fact of his injury or its cause.” Id. at 555-56. Accordingly, courts will not recognize “I didn’t know about the statute of limitations” as an excuse for failing to bring your claim(s) within that allotted time period.
Okay, so you’re still within the statute of limitations… now what?
Creating Value for Our Personal Injury and Medical/Dental Malpractice Clients
Depending on the extent of your injuries, the amount of damages, whether liability is at issue, the current level of evidentiary support, etc., our firm often recommends varying and dynamic approaches to these situations. In some cases, a demand letter sent to the negligent party and/or its insurance provider is often the best first route. In a demand letter, we outline your claims, your evidence, your damages, etc., and offer to release that party from the viable claims you have against it in exchange for a certain amount (which we can help you reasonably determine based on somewhat universal methodology often used by legal professionals and insurance companies alike). However, in some cases, a demand letter is not feasible or would likely be futile. In this instance, or in the event that the at-fault party fails to respond to the demand letter (which sometimes happens), we may suggest moving forward with litigation. We can also help you determine whether your claims will require the testimony of an expert witness (some cases require expert physician testimony, an accident reconstructionist, an economist, etc. to prove your claims and/or damages), as well as discuss other strategic considerations. In any event, we are able to shift the burden and stress off of you (the client) and assume that burden for you.
We take over the preliminary steps, such as contacting insurance companies, requesting and reviewing medical records and billing statements, etc. If we are able to successfully negotiate a settlement on your behalf, we can also handle drafting or reviewing settlement offers/releases and take care of paying any subrogation liens you may have against you. Perhaps most significantly, we are often able to do so on a contingency basis (meaning that you pay little to nothing out of pocket – our legal fees come out of the amount we recover on your behalf and only in the event that we are successful in getting you something). If you have been involved in an accident or think you may have a claim similar to those discussed in this entry, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.