The statute of limitations refers to the period within which you must start a lawsuit.  If you fail to act in timely fashion, a court will dismiss your lawsuit, no matter how strong your claim may have been.  Consequently, tardy victims can be left without any legal remedy.  The statutes of limitations for medical malpractice vary from state to state in duration (and exceptions).  For instance, the statute of  limitations in New York is two and one half years, and may be extended, or “tolled”, if you continued treatment with the same physician for the same condition;  in New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years, but may be extended until you discover your injury;  in California, the statute of limitations is three years, or one year from discovery of your injury, but in no event can you sue more than three years after the last act of the defendant doctor.

For victims of LASIK eye surgery malpractice, the statute of limitations poses extra perils.  Recently, I was contacted by doctor who had LASIK eye surgery at TLC in 2003, when he was living in California.  In 2004, he moved to New York, where his subsequent treating ophthalmologist diagnosed him with post-LASIK corneal ectasia in 2009.  Ectasia is a progressive thinning of the cornea, which can cause poor visual acuity and poor visual quality.  Complaints such as double vision, halos, glare, ghosting, star bursts, blurring, and photosensitivity are common.  In this case, the new eye doctor informed his patient that the original TLC surgeon was negligent because the patient was never a suitable candidate for LASIK due to the preoperative condition of his eyes, which included thin corneas and substantial astigmatism.  On average, ectasia can take 16 months to develop after LASIK surgery[1].   In this case, unfortunately for the patient, the time bomb of ectasia had a particularly long fuse, and took almost five years to develop, by which time it was too late for the patient to sue his LASIK surgeon, under his unique circumstances.

In short, lawsuits are not like fine wine.  Generally, legal claims do not improve with time.  Memories fade; witnesses disappear; evidence is lost.  If you think you may be the victim of medical negligence, you should seek prompt legal advice.  Many potential clients explain that they need to take care of their medical crises before they can even think about a lawsuit.  That priority makes sense and is understandable.  But it is equally important to at least learn and understand the statute of limitations that applies to your case, so that it does not expire inadvertently.

[1] Randleman, J.B., et al.“Risk Factors and Prognosis for Corneal Ectasia after LASIK.” Ophthalmology 2003; 110:267-275.