Michigan laws set time limits for filing most civil claims, including medical malpractice claims. These rules are known as statutes of limitations. If a claim isn’t filed by the time the statute of limitations expires, the injured person cannot recover in a lawsuit.

Different time limits apply to different types of cases. For example, if you are injured in a car accident, the Michigan statute of limitations gives you three years from the crash date to file a lawsuit.

Some personal injury cases have more complicated statutes of limitations. Calculating the time within which an injured person must file a medical malpractice claim can sometimes be challenging. One factor that complicates the issue is the “discovery rule.” This legal provision impacts how the statute of limitations is calculated for Michigan medical negligence cases.

Time Limits for Filing Michigan Medical Malpractice Claims

Michigan law limits the time allowed to file a medical malpractice claim to two years from the date the act of malpractice occurred. This two-year rule is easily applied to cases where the injury or malpractice was evident from the moment it occurred.

However, not all medical injuries are immediately apparent. Some mistakes have effects that take time to manifest. For instance, if a doctor fails to diagnose cancer properly, a patient may not realize the oversight for years—or even decades.

To address these complex cases, Michigan’s statute of limitations also includes a provision known as the “discovery rule.”

The Six-Month Discovery Rule

The discovery rule allows an injured person to file a claim for medical malpractice within six months after they “discover or should have discovered” the claim’s existence.

When an injured person discovers or should have discovered their malpractice claim immediately after it occurred, this six-month period falls within the general two-year time limit. It does not extend the statute of limitations if the injured person discovers or should have discovered their claim within one year and six months of the injury date.

But what if the person didn’t discover – and couldn’t have been expected to discover – their injury and claim until 22 months after the injury occurred? Under the two-year rule, this person would have only two months to file their claim. However, because of the discovery rule’s extension period, this person will have six full months from the date they discovered their claim to begin their medical malpractice case.

The same is true for an injured person who finds out about their injury three years after it occurred. The six-month clock starts ticking on the date the injured person “discovered or should have discovered” their claim – even if that date is after the two-year statute of limitations that generally applies to medical malpractice claims.

What Does “Should Have Discovered” Mean?

The six-month period begins when an injured person “discovers or should have discovered” they had a claim. Since it is open to some interpretation, the phrase “should have discovered” has historically been a source of contention.

Michigan appellate courts have ruled that the phrase “should have discovered” depends on the answers to two questions:

  • When could the injured person have inferred malpractice from the facts they had?
  • Did the plaintiff know facts that raised suspicion but didn’t diligently investigate?

Does the Discovery Rule Apply Forever?

The six-month discovery rule addresses cases where evidence of negligence might not be available until several years after the conduct causing harm occurred. While this provision can be helpful, it also has limits; even the six-month rule doesn’t extend the statute of limitations forever.

The six-month rule can only be applied for up to six years after the conduct that caused the injury. After six years, the case cannot be brought to court unless one of two exceptions applies:

  • The injured person was prevented from discovering the harm by fraudulent conduct by a provider or facility involved in the claim, or
  • The harm involves permanent loss or damage of a reproductive organ that prevents the injured person from having children.

Speaking to an experienced lawyer is essential if you suspect you’ve been the victim of medical harm or potential negligence.

Have You Been Harmed by a Healthcare Provider’s Negligence?

If you’ve been injured or suffered an illness or disease and suspect a medical error may be to blame, contact one of our Michigan medical malpractice attorneys. At Sommers Schwartz, our dedicated team of lawyers has successfully pursued some of the most complex and contested medical malpractice cases in Michigan and across the United States. Call us today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

Matthew Curtis

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Matthew Curtis

Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.