How Long Do I Have to Make a Malpractice Claim in Ohio?

The statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is quite short

By Trevor Kupfer | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 9, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Steve Crandall

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When victims of medical malpractice reach out to attorneys to file a lawsuit, the sad truth is that many are stopped before they even start.

One of the biggest reasons, says Steve Crandall, a medical negligence attorney at CPW Law in Cleveland, is the state’s statute of limitations.

Ohio’s Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

“In Ohio, it’s quite short,” Crandall says.

“If it doesn’t involve a minor or a death, it’s only one year. It’s based on one of two things: It’s a year from when you knew, or should have known, there was malpractice; or it’s from the last time you saw the defendant—whichever is later.

So, if a husband goes into an ER [and the doctors] don’t diagnose a heart attack but he has one the next day, it would be a year after the heart attack because they probably aren’t seeing that same ER team ever again. Whereas, if it’s a surgical case and you check back in after three weeks, it’s extended those few weeks. But it’s still a short window; it’s pretty harsh.”

Delays in reporting malpractice occur for many reasons—struggling to pay the bills and worrying about proper medical care among them. “There are a lot of times where someone is injured—say, a husband has a heart attack, and his wife has to handle everything. She’s buried for a long time. Then 10 months later, she realizes maybe something was wrong and contacts a lawyer. We may only have 30 or 60 days to have it looked at,” Crandall says.

When a personal injury lawyer decides to take your case and file a medical malpractice claim, they must first seek out medical records and have an expert agree there’s a valid claim to secure an affidavit of merit. “It all takes time, which is why if someone comes to me with only a few days left, I rarely can take it,” Crandall says. “And God forbid it goes past the 12 month mark, because then it’s done.”

If it doesn’t involve a minor or a death, [the statute of limitations is] only one year. It’s based on one of two things: It’s a year from when you knew, or should have known, there was malpractice; or it’s from the last time you saw the defendant—whichever is later.

Steve Crandall

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

If a case involves a minor, the deadline is the child’s 19th birthday. If someone dies as a result of a health care provider’s malpractice, you have two options for potential claims: survivorship and wrongful death.

Wrongful death claims have a statute of limitations of two years in Ohio law, but survivorship is still a one-year period. “So if I get a call 13 months later, I sadly have to let them know that they unfortunately blew the survivorship claim, which is pain and suffering, medical bills, and those types of things,” Crandall says.

A medical malpractice lawyer can seek a “180-Day Letter” to extend the statute an additional six months, but the process can difficult and you’re better off simply acting early.

“There’s also a thing in Ohio called the statute of repose, which basically says: No matter what the facts and circumstances are, you only have four years to bring a case forward,” Crandall adds.

“So, let’s say someone leaves a surgical towel in someone’s abdomen—so clearly they’re negligent—and it takes four years and a day before it begins to rot and cause pain. Then they collapse, go in, and someone notices it. In Ohio, that person wouldn’t have a claim. I had a case where an MRI was missed that showed a lesion of the person’s kidney. They didn’t see it, the cancer grew slowly, and she had a seizure. When they looked at the scan, she had huge brain, lung, and abdomen metastases. Thankfully the seizure happened three years and 11 months later, so we were able to scramble to preserve the statute of limitations.”

Medical Malpractice Case Red Flags

Sometimes people just don’t realize malpractice took place at all, so a complaint never even makes it to an attorney. Crandall suggests a few red flags to look for and bring to the attention of an attorney:

  • “If a doctor indicates that it’s a simple procedure and there’s an outrageously bad result.”
  • “Anytime there’s a diagnosis of something where there was testing done before then that didn’t catch it. That’s always a reason to call. A lot of times people will have MRIs that are read as fine, then two years later there’s a brain tumor. If you look back, sometimes it’s really obvious they just blew it.”
  • “The other thing that should tip people off is communication errors—when doctors don’t get back in touch with you. You call, they don’t call back. You call, they don’t call back. Then you have a heart attack.”

If you have an inkling of malpractice involving yourself or a loved one, the time limit is ticking and Crandall says “you have to act right away.” Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Ohio. If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our medical malpractice law overview.

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