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Navigating the statute of limitations in dental malpractice cases: What you should know

The statute of limitations for filing a dental malpractice lawsuit is sometimes confusing for victims because it can be based on two possible dates: when you were hurt and when you discovered you were hurt. Generally, you have at least a year, but a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the options and identify which deadline applies to you. 

Dental Malpractice Statute of Limitations Based on the Incident vs. Discovery

According to CIV § 340.5, the two possible filing deadlines for a malpractice lawsuit are:

  • From the incident: Three years
  • From discovery: One year

How Do You Know Which Deadline Applies to You?

The reason for the two different dates is to distinguish between victims who immediately know they suffered from negligence and those who don’t find out until later. 

An example of the three-year deadline is if the dentist operated on the wrong tooth. You will likely realize right away. You will have three years to prepare and file a lawsuit against the dentist. In essence, this deadline applies to any cases where you know right after the procedure that you were hurt.

The one-year deadline is for situations where you didn’t become aware of the problem until sometime later. An example of this is if a foreign object was left in your body. Once you discover it, you then only have a year to file your suit. 

When Should You File in Relation to the Statute of Limitations? 

Even when you know which deadline applies to you, when do you actually file the paperwork? Dental malpractice lawsuit timing lies in the details of your case:

  • Are you able to file an insurance claim against those responsible first?
  • Are there disagreements over what happened or who is liable? 
  • How open to negotiations is the other party?
  • How complicated is the dental procedure, injury, or other details of the case?

Your legal team might work on filing an insurance claim and negotiating a settlement before filing a lawsuit. However, if it becomes clear that a claim isn’t going to get you the compensation you deserve, your attorney may proceed to a suit. In some cases, your attorney may start by filing a lawsuit.

Why Are There Dental Negligence Time Limits?

As a victim of malpractice, you may wonder why you’re limited at all in taking action. Ideally, statutes of limitations are put in place to protect both the person filing the suit and the parties facing the suit. Filing deadlines for dental malpractice should cut down on frivolous suits while still protecting the rights of genuine victims. 

Below are some of the reasons for the deadline. These are also reasons you shouldn’t wait to check if you have a case, since this time can be used by your lawyer to check for signs of dental malpractice and to start advocating for you. 

To Give You Time to Investigate

To prepare a dental malpractice lawsuit, you need to have evidence showing that a dental care provider owed you a duty of care, violated it, and hurt you. This can take time and investigation. You’ll need to gather evidence like:

  • Medical and dental records
  • Diagnostic imaging and testing
  • Photos and video 
  • Testimony from healthcare providers
  • Testimony from other witnesses
  • Employment records showing you missed work
  • Bills and personal losses
  • Analysis by experts

The statute of limitations is designed not to be too short, allowing you the chance to gather this information, determine what it means, and build it into a case for damages. 

To Prevent Losing Evidence

While the goal of a filing deadline for dental malpractice is to provide you enough time to get your case in order, it also isn’t designed to be too long. This is because valuable information can get lost or forgotten as time passes, making it harder to prove a case. 

This is also why it’s crucial not to wait until the time limit is almost up. You want to secure evidence as soon as possible, especially eyewitness testimony; witnesses can forget details that could prove vital. 

To Give You Time to Heal

Your legal team may want to get an idea of your maximum medical improvement (MMI) before filing a lawsuit. Taking time for you to at least start down your road to recovery gives everyone involved a better understanding of what costs and losses will be associated with your case. 

The other party might not want to wait and may offer a settlement very quickly. This doesn’t mean you have to or should accept it, nor does it mean you won’t end up needing to file a lawsuit. Early settlement offers are sometimes too low, and some liable parties are unwilling to go any higher. In that case, a lawsuit might be necessary, but your team might still wait until the full extent of your situation is known. 

You deserve to have some time to see other dentists and doctors, talk to experts, and determine what this ordeal will really cost you. Make sure you know your legal rights as a patient in a dental malpractice case

To Give You Time to Negotiate

Most personal injury cases settle out of court. Both parties typically want to reach an agreement before going to trial, since once you’re in court, the verdict is up to the jury. Settlement negotiations allow everyone involved to have their say in the terms, potentially satisfying all parties. 

However, you can still reach a settlement after filing a lawsuit, so don’t assume the option is off the table once you file. Your representation, like our dental malpractice lawyers, can continue to work out terms even as we prepare for court. 

When Should You Speak with a Dental Negligence Lawyer?

Now! If you already have questions about dental malpractice, you can talk to the personal injury lawyers at KJT Law Group today to get free information about your case. Since you may only have a year to get compensation, don’t wait to verify and get to work on seeking damages. Contact us for your free case evaluation today: (818) 507-8525

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