The statute of limitations for most medical malpractice claims in Minnesota is four years. Minn. Stat. § 541.076.
The most significant issue to keep in mind is that the period is shortened in cases that result in wrongful death and where the negligence related to care provided by a federal healthcare program.
For wrongful death actions, the claim must be commenced within three years of the death. Minn. Stat. § 573.02. When a claim implicates both the wrongful death statute of limitations and the medical malpractice statute of limitations, the claim must be commenced before either deadline expires. Id. To illustrate, if a negligent act results in a patient’s death two years after the claim accrues, the claim must be brought within the four-year medical negligence period – even if the wrongful death period appears to afford more time. Practitioners must take note of this dynamic.
For claims that involve federal defendants, the federal law (the FTCA) will govern the procedure, including the timelines and manner in which the claim is filed. This issue will particularly arise in cases involving healthcare through Veterans Affairs or Indian Health Service. But federally-deemed healthcare providers can sometimes sneak into unexpected places, so practitioners should always be aware. FTCA claims have different time limits, as soon as two years, and require completely different procedures to pursue the claim.
Unlike other states, Minnesota does not recognize a “discovery rule” that might delay the accrual of the claim until after an injury was or should have been discovered. See Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 578, n.2 (Minn. 1993).
A continuing course of treatment can extend the limitations period by delaying the time that the claim accrues to the point in time when a physician’s treatment of a particular condition ceases. Id.; Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 190 N.W.2d 77, 80 (Minn. 1971). For claims of missed diagnosis, this added time period might be substantial.
Minnesota recognizes tolling due to disability, which includes infancy. Minn. Stat. § 541.15. For minor children the tolling statute suspends the running of the statute of limitations while they are under 18 years of age, but the suspension is limited to a maximum of seven years in medical negligence cases. Minn. Stat. § 541.15(b).
Minor tolling can be tricky for a number of reasons and it may be wise to commence any case on a minor’s behalf within the standard four-year period whenever possible. First, the language within the statute is arguably vague enough to make it unclear whether a child has seven or eleven years to bring a claim. The Eighth Circuit has interpreted this provision to stop the clock on the running of the statute of limitations after which the full period of limitations would follow. Lelm by Lelm v. Mayo Foundation, 135 F.3d 584, 588 (8th Cir. 1998). Because the limitations period was extended from two to four years since Lelm, that decision would support the proposition that a child has up to eleven years to bring a claim. Second, medical negligence claims for children often involve a derivative claim on behalf of one or more adults, including parent care providers. These derivative claims can be substantial and are not tolled pursuant to the minor’s infancy. Ostrander by Ostrander v. Cone Mills, Inc., 445 N.W.2d 240, 242 (Minn. 1989).