Please don’t let worries about time limits for medical negligence put you off contacting us, even if you think you may have left it too long.

Unlike other firms, Medical Solicitors do not shy away from cases with time difficulties. We do sometimes take on cases that have a very good chance of success, despite a time difficulty, if there are reasonable grounds to seek permission to go ahead from the Court. We do not have a policy of automatically turning away cases that are close to possible expiry of the usual medical negligence time limits. 

In this guide, we’ll cover all the key areas of medical negligence claim time limits in England and Wales, including time limitation dates, exceptions to know about and the benefits of starting your claim as early on as possible. 

Is there a time limit on medical claims?

Yes, generally speaking, there is a three year time limit for issuing Court proceedings for medical negligence claims. This time limit applies to all types of medical negligence claims, including surgery claims, GP negligence claims, delayed diagnosis claims and prescription error claims. In the UK, time limits are set out in the Limitation Act 1980.

When does the medical negligence time limit start?

A Claim Form should be issued in Court within three years of the applicable date to prevent your potential claim from possibly being time-barred.

The applicable date is either:

  • the date of the treatment or accident that lead you to seek advice, or;
  • the date upon which you realised or ought to have known that your injuries were caused by the treatment or accident.

It is not necessary for you to know whether the treatment was negligent, just that it may have caused you injury.

Are there exceptions to the time limit for medical negligence claims?

Yes, there are some exceptions to the time limit for medical negligence claims. If you are unsure if any of these exceptions apply to you and your case, please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.

  • Death

In cases that arise because a relative was killed by the treatment or accident, their family have three years from the date of the death, unless the person bringing the claim is under 18. If the negligence is discovered after the victim has died, then the time limit begins from the date of discovery. However, we have succeeded in a case that was 4.6 years past the date of death when we accepted it. We accepted it because we felt that the wrong cause of death had been decided at an Inquest and also we felt that the family had been misled by the local Hospital Trust.

If a claimant dies whilst they are in the process of making a medical negligence claim, their family should have three years from the date of death to continue with the claim. This is because the claim may need to be reviewed, changed or restarted.

If you believe your relative was killed as a result of medical negligence, you may be required to attend a medical negligence inquest hearing as part of the claim process. Our solicitors can represent you at inquest hearings, help you prepare and ensure the right questions are asked of the witnesses and Coroner.

  • Age

In cases involving children, the three year medical negligence time limit does not start until their 18th birthday. This means they have until their 21st birthday to begin their claim.

However, if they were subject to medical negligence before the age of 18, but don’t become aware of the injuries caused until after their 18th birthday, the time limit starts on the date of discovery instead.

If a parent starts pursuing a medical claim on behalf of their child, then the child cannot pursue the same claim after turning 18.

These rules do not apply if the child has a mental disability that disapplies the normal rules (see below).

  • Mental disability 

In cases involving someone who is not capable of instructing a solicitor, the three year time limit does not run until such time as the person regains the capacity necessary to understand and bring legal proceedings. This test is applied on a case by case basis and the fact that someone lacks the capacity to administer their own affairs does not necessarily mean that they lack capacity to instruct a solicitor.

Time does not run at all for the mentally disabled or disabled people who are not able to speak to or communicate effectively with a solicitor.

If the negligent medical treatment results in brain injury or reduced mental capacity of the victim, then there is no immediate time limit.

Mental disability can include certain psychiatric conditions depending on the duration and severity of that condition.

When can the Court allow a claim to go ahead out of time?

The Court does have a limited discretion to allow cases to continue outside the three year time limit. Even if you think you may be outside of the time limit for medical negligence, you can still contact us to ask what we think about your case and whether you might be able to apply for discretion. The Court is often quite sympathetic to vulnerable Claimants who have been severely injured and where the medical records are still in existence. 

Clearly, time is of the essence in such cases and you should not delay, as ongoing delay can be prejudicial to arguments for discretion. Whether time can be extended does depend on the facts of every case so, go on…just ask us!

What should I do if the time limit on my medical claim is approaching?

If the three year time limit for your medical negligence claim is approaching, you should take action as soon as possible. At Medical Solicitors, we do not automatically turn away cases that are approaching the time limitation. The sooner you contact a specialist medical solicitor, the better chance you have of seeking the compensation you deserve.

Can I claim medical negligence after two years?

Yes, the medical negligence time limit is three years from the date of your injury or, if later, the date you should have been aware of your injury and possible negligence, so you can claim after two years. However, if you are aware of the negligence earlier than two years, we would advise not waiting to speak with a solicitor and start your claim as soon as possible for the best chance of success.

Can I claim for medical negligence after five or ten years?

The time limitation for medical negligence claims is three years. However, there are occasions where you may be able to pursue your claim after five or ten years. For example, you may have only discovered the medical negligence years later. Or, the Court may grant you an exemption, however this is done on a case-by-case basis.

Is there a time limit on suing the NHS?

If you are bringing a medical negligence claim against the NHS, then the three year time limit still applies. The three year time limitation for medical negligence claims in England and Wales applies to claims brought against both the NHS and private healthcare practices. However, you can ask the Court to allow your claim to proceed out of time if you have a reasonable argument.

Benefits of starting your medical claim early

You should start your medical negligence claim as soon as possible for the best chance of a compelling and successful case. Medical claims have time limits to ensure the Court has the clearest picture from both parties as, over a long period of time, gaps are more likely to develop in the evidence.  

Here are three key benefits of starting your medical claim early:

  • Witness accounts - The earlier you start your claim, the witnesses called upon should be able to recall their version of events more clearly. 
  • Medical records - Over time, medical records can become degraded, be lost or rarely destroyed. Medical records will be an important piece of evidence in your case, and the earlier you begin your claim, the better chance you have of seeking good reliable copies. 
  • On-going payments - As your claim is in process, you may be able to seek on-going payments to help with the changes to your life that the negligent treatment caused. For example, if you are seeking damages for an amputation or limb loss claim, you may need to adapt your home, move home, or pay for specialist equipment before your claim has been settled. Or, if you have to attend additional hospital or therapy appointments, on-going payments could help cover your travel expenses.

How long does a medical negligence claim take?

A medical negligence claim can take months or years to conclude, depending on the complexity of the case. For example, if your injuries are extremely severe, the claim is contested, or the claim goes to Court, this will likely add time to the process. It can take longer than three years to conclude the case, as long as the claim was started within the three year time limitation period.

Impact of Covid-19 on medical negligence time limitations

For a significant part of 2020 and 2021, the UK was under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The disruption this caused resulted in significant delays to medical treatments, Court proceedings and legal assistance.

Many people wrongly (but perhaps reasonably) assumed that, due to the pandemic and lockdown, time limitations for medical negligence claims would be extended or put on hold. But this was not the case – time limitations were not suspended during lockdown.

On top of this, some people were hesitant to make a claim during the pandemic because of the additional pressures and challenges the NHS and healthcare staff were facing. However, although it is undeniable that frontline workers were under additional stress, misdiagnosis of a condition or substandard care cannot be excused due to the pandemic.

Additionally, there have been cases where claimants were dismissed by their solicitors as lockdown measures were imposed. If this caused a delay to starting your claim, you may have a professional negligence claim against the solicitors. Primarily though, the Courts may allow your claim to proceed against the healthcare provider out of time. 

If you resonate with any of these situations and believe your medical negligence case was impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will do what we can to help. If you can build a case showing that you made significant effort to start your claim but were impacted by lockdown and the pandemic, you may be able to build a compelling case to ask for Court discretion and an extended time limit.

How can Medical Solicitors help you?

Our friendly team of specialist lawyers at Medical Solicitors have a lot of experience in bringing successful medical negligence claims and can help you navigate the time limit for your medical negligence claim.

If you are concerned about the time limit for your claim, do contact our team of specialists and we will help you figure out the best next steps. We conduct most of our claims under ‘No Win, No Fee’ agreements, also known as Conditional Fee Agreements. So, you don’t need to worry about how you’re going to afford to bring a medical negligence claim. You have nothing to lose in speaking to us.

Why Choose Us?

We’ve handled many different types of medical negligence cases and provided expert advice for over 20 years.

  • We offer FREE, no obligation legal advice all throughout
  • Our processes are hassle free & we handle all the paperwork
  • We won't charge you a penny until your case has been settled

Our surgery claims expert:

Caroline Moore

Managing Director/Head of Sheffield Office

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