Lawsuits Against Public Hospitals
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When suing for medical malpractice, a lawsuit generally is filed against the responsible healthcare provider, which can be a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, hospital, clinic, or any individual or entity involved in your care. Often, a lawsuit will name several defendants. It may not be clear, at the outset, which one was actually responsible for your injury. And in some cases, more than one responsible party exists.
If you are considering a lawsuit against a state- or county-run hospital, such as UIC or Stroger, there may be some special rules to consider. Government entities have some built-in protection from lawsuits, called tort immunity. The idea is that the public pays for these government agencies, including the legal bills, so protecting the agencies from lawsuits is in the taxpayers' best interest.
One protection most public agencies get is a shortened statute of limitations. This is the time in which a lawsuit must be brought before it is no longer allowed. Lawsuits against public agencies, including public hospitals, have a one-year deadline, generally speaking.
However, there is an important exception to this statute of limitations. If your lawsuit against a public hospital has to do with “patient care” then you have two years to file a lawsuit. This is the same deadline as most other injury lawsuits, including those against individual doctors and private hospitals. If your lawsuit does not involve patient care, then the deadline is likely just one year.
When determining the deadline for filing a lawsuit, there are a few additional factors to consider. One is the age of the person who was injured. Minors generally get more time. So do people who are considered legally disabled at the time they were injured. The law gives these groups of individuals a longer timeframe, because it's assumed that they couldn't have fully understood their injuries at the time. For a minor, the clock starts ticking when they turn 18; for a disabled person it starts ticking when the disability no longer exists, if that ever happens.
Claims against state or county hospitals are essentially claims against the government. Lawsuits against the state are filed in the Court of Claims. So if you were injured at UIC, you would be suing the State of Illinois rather than the hospital itself. Often, lawsuits against individual doctors (not the state) are filed in regular civil court simultaneously.
Another aspect of governmental immunity in medical malpractice is that you can't sue a government-run hospital for failing to diagnose a condition or illness. Once they have started treating you, then their actions become susceptible to lawsuits.
When dealing with a lawsuit against a public agency, it's always a good idea to get legal advice early on, in case the shortened deadline applies in your case. You might have a severe injury that affects your life in a profound way, and someone else's negligence may be to blame. If you don't exercise your right to seek compensation for your injury, and do so within the time limit, you could end up putting the financial burden on yourself and your family instead.
If you have any questions about this area of law or would like an attorney referral, please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers in confidence.