Understanding Washington’s medical malpractice laws

As the major medical center for the Inland Northwest, the city of Spokane treats a wide variety of persons every day. From routine office visits to emergency care and beyond, the need for patients to be able to trust in the safety of the care they receive is vital.

With information released in 2013 that suggests medical errors to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, concerns about medical malpractice are real and legitimate. An error in the healthcare process can result in various levels of injury or even wrongful death. In these situations, victims and their family members are left in need of help.

How does Washington define malpractice?

Any act-or lack thereof-which can be said to deviate from what is identified as a standard of care within the larger medical community is able to be classified as medical malpractice.

This can be on the part of a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist or even an entity such as a hospital, clinic or laboratory. A missed or wrong diagnosis, failure to offer treatment in a timely manner, a foreign object left in a body post-surgery and incorrect treatment are all examples of potentially serious medical errors.

Determining whether or not an error took place can be difficult at times given the acknowledged subjective nature of what is the standard of care.

What are Washington's statutes of limitations?

Washington has very clear timeframes in which a medical malpractice claim can be initiated. These include:

  • The standard statute of limitations for malpractice claims is three years from the date of the actual injury or action.
  • A claim can be made up to one year after the date that an injury is discovered if that date is after the original three-year time period.
  • For any case that led to the wrongful death of a patient, the victim's representatives have up to three years from the date of death to file a suit.
  • For any injury to a minor, the statute of limitations does not begin until the date of his or her eighteenth birthday and runs for a period of one year from that date.

Understanding these statutes is very important as patients and their family members should not wish to waste time if an error or negligence is suspected. Losing the opportunity to receive due compensation simply because of a lapse of calendar days can only serve to make a difficult situation worse.

If you or someone you know believes that some form of malpractice has taken place, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. An attorney with experience in this area of law can help you identify your best actions.