In New Mexico, like many states, doctors and other medical providers enjoy a number of protections that are not available to others that cause harm. In order to get the benefit of these protections, the medical professional must be a “qualified healthcare provider” under the New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act.
Medical Review Panel Requirement
One of the main protections for medical providers and hurdles for injured patients is the requirement for that the patient first take his or her case before a Medical Review Panel before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. This is not required for doctors who are not qualified healthcare providers.
Statute of Limitations
This brings us to the question of deadlines in a claim against a qualified healthcare provider. Medical malpractice lawsuits, like all personal injury claims, have statutory deadlines. One such deadline is the statute of limitations. For personal injury claims, including medical malpractice claims, the statute of limitations is typically 3 years from the date of the alleged act of negligence.
Claims Against the Government
It is important to note that claims against governmental facilities or providers have shorter deadlines. The first important deadline in claims against the government can run in as little as 90 days and the statute of limitations is only 2 years. Deadlines on governmental claims are discussed at length elsewhere on this site.
Discovery Rule Does Not Apply to Qualified Healthcare Providers
Returning to the limitations on claims against qualified healthcare providers, the requirement that a claim first be brought before a Medical Review Panel raises additional issues. Medical malpractice claims are unique in a number of ways that could make this requirement very burdensome.
First, it is not always apparent at first that the patient has been injured or that the medical provider was negligent. One good example is when surgical supplies or instruments are left in patient are not discovered for months or even years. In cases against non-qualified healthcare providers, the injured patient gets the benefit of the “discovery rule” which means the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the negligence is discovered.
In claims against qualified healthcare providers, the patient does not have the benefit of the discovery rule. The statute of limitations runs in 3 years no matter when the negligence is discovered. The requirement of the Medical Review Panel could create impossible barriers to a claim if the negligence was discovered near the end of the 3 year period.
Tolling of Statute of Limitations While Before Medical Review Panel
The Medical Malpractice Act throws injured patients a bone here. Though the claims must be brought to the Medical Review Panel within 3 years, the statute of limitations is tolled while the case is pending before the Panel. This means the statute of limitations stops running while the case is before the Panel giving the injured patient additional time to file suit.
Under the statute, the statute of limitations will not start running again until 30 days after the Panel’s final decision. Once it begins running again, it will run normally up to the 3 year statute of limitations. This provides some protection for those that discover the negligence late into the limitations period and get their claim before the Medical Review Panel in a timely manner. It provides no protection for those that discover it after the 3 years has run.
Do Not Delay!
Like all these situations, every case is different requiring careful individual analysis. Even if the statute has run against one provider, it may not have run against others. For example, there may be numerous negligent parties some of whom are qualified healthcare providers and others who are not. It is important to make these determinations as soon as possible.
Due to the complexities of medical malpractice claims, the many unique rules, the protections for some providers and the sheer difficulty of bringing these claims, it is extremely important that you immediately contact an attorney with experience in medical malpractice claims if you or a loved one has been seriously injured and you suspect medical negligence is the cause.
Delay in these claims is always inadvisable. Missing the statute of limitations will bar your medical negligence claim completely.
For additional reading on New Mexico Medical Malpractice issues visit the Medical Malpractice Section of our Personal Injury Law Blog.