According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 83.6 percent of adults and 93 percent of children had contact with a health care professional in 2015. Hospital visits numbered 125.7 million while physician office visits numbered 922.6 million.

While the vast majority of medical procedures go smoothly, errors do occur and cause injury to patients. Surgery errors are the most common basis for an inpatient medical malpractice claim. As for outpatients, errors in diagnosis are the most common basis for a claim.

If a person suspects medical malpractice due to an adverse outcome from a medical diagnosis or procedure, he or she may decide to reach out to the physician, medical care provider, or hospital for some explanation or recourse. As a recent case illustrates, that may NOT be the best course of action to take.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are subject to strict filing time constraints, including time frames for notices of claim and statutes of limitations. These time constraints govern the amount of time an injured person has to file a claim. They vary state by state and may depend on the type of facility involved, which means whether it is a private, public, or charitable institution.

It is important to note that the limitations period for filing a medical negligence lawsuit may be triggered by any contact with the potential defendants by the injured person or his or her representative.

In the case discussed here, an informal letter sent from a former patient to a hospital described the patient’s injury and the basis for her “medical negligence” claim. She requested a certain sum of money and stated that she would “move to the court” if she didn’t receive it. The hospital denied the claim. More than a year later, she filed suit, alleging medical negligence.

The court dismissed the lawsuit as time-barred after concluding that the patient’s letter was a presuit notice. In other words, the patient’s attempt to contact the hospital on her own to demand payment triggered the statute of limitations and by the time she retained a lawyer, it was too late to file suit. The court found that a later letter from the patient’s attorney did not extend the time to file the actual suit.

While no one wants to file a medical negligence lawsuit if it is unwarranted, the underlying facts and merits of a lawsuit are not easily discerned. It may be unwise to try to determine whether a lawsuit should be filed by contacting the potential defendant or defendants.

If you suspect that you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice, consider speaking with an attorney as soon as possible. Also, it may be wise to refrain from:

  • Contacting potential defendants or their attorneys in writing, in person, or by phone, text, on the internet, or by email.
  • Entering into settlement negotiations, formal or informal.
  • Signing any document relating to the incident.
  • Posting on social media about the incident.