Suing a healthcare provider

There are special rules if you are suing a hospital, doctor, chiropractor, dentist, another healthcare provider, and even a veterinarian, for injuries experienced because of something they did or did not do. This is called medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are usually complicated. 

Talk to a lawyer before you start a case.  


Meet deadlines

You have to file your lawsuit before a deadline

To sue, you have to file your lawsuit before a deadline. This is called the statute of limitations. To sue a healthcare provider for an injury, you must file your lawsuit by the earliest of either:

  • 1 year after you found out about (or should have found out about) the injury
  • 3 years from the date of your injury

There are some exceptions. For example, you have longer if the healthcare provider left something in you (like a sponge after surgery) or if the person injured was 6 or younger.

You have to let the provider know you plan to sue them

Before you can sue you must let them know in writing at least 90 days before you sue. This is called giving notice. Your notice must tell them:

  • The legal reason you're suing
  • What your injuries are
  • What losses you have

There is not a court form to use. You must serve the notice on the provider following specific rules. 

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You can find these laws in the California Code of Civil Procedure. Statute of limitations: Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5  and Notice to Healthcare Providers: Code of Civil Procedure section 364

Find an expert witness

If you're suing about the care or treatment you received, you almost always need an expert witness

You will need to prove in court that what the healthcare provider did in your case did not meet the quality that providers like them should deliver. This is called the standard of care.

You need an expert to say what the standards are, that your healthcare provider did not meet those standards, and that caused your injury.

Expert witnesses are usually very expensive. If you win your case, you only get these fees back if it was properly set up and the judge orders it.

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Talk to a lawyer about the strengths and weaknesses of your case. They can also advise you on other things you may be able to sue for that are related to your injuries, like lost pay or mental health issues you now have. These additional things can add up.

Review any contracts you signed

Any contract you signed for receiving your care or when you signed up for health insurance often has rules about what you have to do before you can sue and where you can sue. For example, the contract may include that you need to go to arbitration. A lawyer, especially one who specializes in medical malpractice cases, will be able to help you understand.  

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