How Will COVID-19 Cases Affect Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitations in California?

August 25, 2020
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Many aspects of our lives have been delayed because of the pandemic. This includes lawsuits. An Emergency Rule from the Judicial Council in California has paused the statutes of limitations for all civil cases. Here’s what this means for medical malpractice cases.

The Statutes of Limitations in Normal Times

Under California law, the statutes of limitations impose a deadline for filing most lawsuits. Once this deadline passes, the claim is no longer considered to be valid.

The amount of time allowed depends on the type of claim. For medical malpractice lawsuits against a healthcare provider, the deadline is set at three years from the date of the injury or one year from the date the plaintiff knows or should know about the injury, whichever is earlier.

However, California law also states that the statutes of limitations may be tolled, or paused, in certain situations. Possible reasons for tolling the statutes of limitations include the defendant being a minor, being out of state, being in prison or being insane. In all of these situations, the tolling will occur on an individual, case-by-case basis. However, it is also possible for all cases to be tolled in extreme situations.

Now, with the pandemic, that’s exactly what we’re seeing – a mass tolling of the statutes of limitations in response to the pandemic and related shelter-in-place orders.

The Emergency Ruling

On April 6, the Judicial Council in California adopted Emergency Rule 9. This rule suspended the statutes of limitations on all civil cases until 90 days after Governor Newsom lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The Judicial Council later amended this rule because it became clear that the emergency orders would be phased out over time and that some courts were starting to process civil filings during this phased reopening. The amended rule makes the following changes:

  • The statutes of limitations for civil causes of action that are 180 days or less are suspended from April 6 to August 3.
  • The statutes of limitations for civil causes of action that exceed 180 days are suspended from April 6 to October 1.

The Impact on Medical Malpractices Cases

The Emergency Order means that some plaintiffs may have additional time to file a claim, and this includes medical malpractice claims impacted by the order.

It should be noted California is not alone in this action. Other states have also taken action to suspend the statutes of limitations in response to the pandemic. These extensions vary from place to place. Additionally, due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, new extensions or rules are always possible.

Have questions about medical malpractice insurance? Heffernan Insurance Brokers has answers.