To get right to the point, the answer of whether you must file your medical malpractice claim with a Medical Review Pane depends on whether your doctor or medical provider is a Qualified Healthcare Provider (QHP). If your doctor is a QHP, then you must first file your medical malpractice claim with a Medical Review Panel. If your doctor is not a QHP, then no you do not have to file with the Medical Review Panel and proceed directly to court.
Qualified Healthcare Provider Status
So this raises a couple more questions on how a doctor gets qualified as a QHP and how do you know if he or she is? Qualified Healthcare providers get their QHP status through the Medical Review Commission.
Basically in order to qualify as a QHP, the doctor need only meet a few requirements the most important of which is proof of financial responsibility. In short, the doctor must provide proof of insurance coverage as set forth by the Medical Malpractice Act.
Determining a Doctor‘s QHP Status
An injured patient can determine whether the doctor is a QHP by contacting the Medical Review Commission, or more specifically the Patient Compensation Fund. It is important to make this determination immediately for several reasons. Of course, one of these (but not the only by any means) is to determine if you must first file your claims with a Medical Review Panel.
By meeting a few nominal requirements, the doctor will enjoy all of the protections of the Medical Malpractice Act as a QHP. The protections for QHP providers does not apply to those that are not. This gets us to the essence of the question first asked above.
Deadlines for Filing with Medical Review Panel
One of the principal protections under the Medical Malpractice Act is that any medical malpractice claims must first be brought before a Medical Review Panel. This requirement applies only to QHP’s. It does not apply to non-QHP.
For claims against a QHP, the claims must be filed with the Medical Review Commission. Like other personal injury matters and medical malpractice claims, the claims must be filed within 3 years of the alleged negligent act.
Failure to file within the 3 year statute of limitations will bar your claim completely. However, it is important to note that once the claim is filed with the Medical Review Panel, the statute of limitations is tolled on the medical malpractice lawsuit.
Medical Review Panel‘s Decision is Not Binding!
This brings up two important points. First, once the Panel has ruled, you may still file a lawsuit no matter what the Panel’s ruling. It is not binding on the injured plaintiff. Second, the statute of limitations stops running on your lawsuit while the Panel is pending. But it recommences as soon as Panel has issued its ruling.
Once the Panel has ruled, the statute of limitations will begin to run again in 30 days. This means your statute of limitations will pick up where it left off. If you had 2 years left on the statute, then you still have 2 years. The time with the Medical Review Panel will not count against you. Clearly, the contrary would be extremely unfair to injured patients.
If you had a short time remaining on your statute of limitations, you will need to move quickly to get your lawsuit filed. It is important to file the suite within the statute of limitations deadline. The filing with the Medical Review Panel simply tolls the statute of limitations. It does not do away with it.
Having said all that, it is extremely important to keep in mind also that the deadlines on claims against Qualified Healthcare Providers can get a little tricky. These unique deadlines must be understood in computing your statute of limitations.
The requirements and protections of the Medical Malpractice Act are there to protect the doctors (and their insurance companies) not the patient. It is important to have an attorney experienced in medical malpractice on your side.
Do Not Delay!
Because of the complexity of these issues and the fact that every case is different, many times vastly so, it is critical that you consult with an attorney on your possible medical malpractice claims as soon as possible. Delay could in investigating and pursuing you claim could seriously damage or completely bar your claims.