The statute of limitations is the amount of time an individual has to file suit on a claim against another individual or organization. After the statute of limitations has run out, all future claims are foreclosed. In New Mexico, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims , including medical malpractice claims , is three years.
Several Variables in Computation of Deadlines
Several variables have an impact on the time period for the statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims in New Mexico. These include; (1) the time that the claim is discovered, (2) whether the healthcare provider is a qualified healthcare provider under the Medical Malpractice Act, and (3) whether the healthcare provider is a public entity.
In general, the three- year statute of limitations on a personal injury claim does not begin to run until the existence of the claim is “discovered or should have reasonably been discovered.” This is commonly known as the Discovery Rule. The Discovery Rule is helpful in malpractice claims, since medical malpractice may not be immediately obvious. In these cases the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the injury is discovered or manifests itself.
Qualified Healthcare Providers
This Discovery Rule may not be applicable in some New Mexico medical malpractice cases, however, if the person or institution charged with the medical malpractice is a “ qualified healthcare provider ” under the Medical Malpractice Act (Act), NMSA 1978, Sections 41-5-1 to -29.
Under the Act, if an individual or entity qualifies as a “qualified healthcare provider,” a patient or family member has three years from the date of the malpractice to file suit, regardless of whether the malpractice was discovered or could have been discovered during this time.
In other words, if a negligent act by a doctor qualified under the Act is discovered two and a half years after the occurrence, the patient only has six months to file suit or lose her claim forever. If a patient discovers the negligent act four years after the malpractice, she cannot bring suit against the doctor. The Act basically eliminates the requirements of the Discovery Rule for certain healthcare providers.
Not all doctors fall under the protections of the Act as qualified health car provider. To qualify as a “health care provider” under the Act, an individual doctor must pay a surcharge and file proof of liability insurance of at least $200,000 per occurrence or deposit at least $600,000 with the superintendent.
If a hospital or other facility wants to qualify under the Act, the superintendent determines the surcharge and bases coverage or deposit for each hospital or facility based on a risk assessment study. In short, by paying a certain amount of money and carrying a certain level of insurance, doctors and hospitals are essentially immune to malpractice claims that are not discovered or discoverable before the three-year statute of limitations runs out.
Claims Against the Government
Claims against public entities are also under a different, more restrictive statute of limitations. First of all, individuals are required to file a notice with the public entity within 90 days of the occurrence that may give rise to a medical malpractice personal injury claim and six months if it is a wrongful death claim . Second, the statute of limitations to bring suit against a public entity is two years instead of three.
One major difficulty patients may face is that even though there are several healthcare providers in New Mexico that are also public entities, their status as a public entity is not immediately apparent, and some patients may fail to realize that their claims may be held to this stricter statute of limitations until it is too late.
Do Not Delay
Because of the many peculiarities and complexities of the statutes of limitations and other deadlines in medical malpractice claims, anyone believing that her or she has been a victim of medical negligence should contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately.
Delay, even a brief delay in some cases, can result in a bar of an injured patient‘s rights to legal recourse.