Statutes of limitations are unfair and arbitrary. For the non-lawyers, statutes of limitations are time limits on your opportunity to bring a lawsuit. Some of them appear reasonable. For example, here in New York State, you have three years to bring a suit against a person or entity whose negligence, or carelessness, caused you to suffer an injury. In the case of medical malpractice, where a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, makes an error while treating you, and the error results in injury or death, you have two and one-half years to sue.
But if that carelessness, or that medical error, took place in a city or state-run facility–think NYCHHC facilities, such as Bellevue Hospital–you have ninety (90) days to file a notice of claim against the appropriate city or state organization behind the healthcare facility, or you are forever barred from bringing a lawsuit, no matter how egregious the misconduct, and no matter how devastating the injuries, barring certain rare exceptions.
Let me put that into context for you. I have a client who suffered severe injuries at his birth because a hospital run by New York State failed to take steps to address a neonatal blood disorder of which they were aware. Because the parents were quite sophisticated and smart, they realized the need to reach out to a lawyer quickly, and with my office's help, filed their notice of claim against New York State within ninety days, preserving their right to bring an action on behalf of their son, who will need care for the rest of his life. Between New York's Medical Indemnity Fund (MIF) and the state, the money for that family's needs will be there, thanks to the settlement being negotiated on the family's behalf.
But then there is the case of the young lady I spoke with last week, who lost her baby a few weeks shy of his expected birth date due to atrociously poor neonatal care from a NYC hospital. A single mother with other children to care for, and with a background that included little education, she did not reach out for help until well after the ninety days had expired, and I couldn't help her. She had been trying to get back on her feet after losing a child, and simply had not gotten around to thinking more carefully about the suspicious-sounding explanations she had been given in response to her questions on how she lost her baby. The case, if there was a case, would have had a very limited value in terms of damages, for reasons not relevant to this discussion. But the time limitation here was not helpful to any party, and kept a potentially deserving one from accessing our courts.
And perhaps you've noticed that hospitals run by NYC or New York State do not alert you to the the ultra-short times facing you if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of medical malpractice. Well, now you know. Tell your friends. Contact my office if you have any questions.