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How Long Do You Have To Sue A Nursing Home?
Ask An Expert: How Long Do I Have To Sue A Nursing Home?
A question we are often asked is: “how long do I have to sue a nursing home?” This is an excellent question, because if you or a loved one has suffered neglect or abuse by a nursing home, you MUST take action within a specific time period or you will be forever barred from filing a civil lawsuit to hold the nursing home accountable. Determining what that time period is, however, can be a complex and tricky question. You may be asking, isn’t there a “statute of limitations” that clearly states what the deadline is? The answer is yes, …and no.
You may be asking, isn’t there a “statute of limitations” that clearly states what the deadline is? The answer is yes …and no.
Statute of Limitations
A “statute of limitations” is a law that defines how long one has to initiate a legal action. Generally speaking, the statute of limitations in Indiana allows claimants up to 2 years from the date of the negligent acts in which to file a civil lawsuit against a nursing home. However, it is important to understand that the issue can be much more complicated than that. Why? There are several reasons.
Other Possible Deadlines
First, nursing homes may be operated by government entities, such as county-owned nursing homes. Government entities, in some cases, have special protections in addition to those granted to private for-profit corporations. Indiana law requires, in certain instances, that a claimant who wants to file a civil lawsuit against such a government entity must serve a “tort claim notice” on the entity (and other designated officials) within 180 days of the act of negligence. This tort claim notice must specify certain details in order to put the government entity on notice of the nature of the claim. If this tort claim notice is not properly given, then the claim may be barred. Thus, action must be taken in those cases well before the 2 year statute of limitations if one wishes to pursue a claim. In some cases, a nursing home may be owned by a county hospital, which hires a for-profit corporation to operate the nursing home for it. In those cases, both entities may be proper defendants in a civil suit with the tort claim notice deadline and the 2 year statute of limitations applying to the county hospital, but only the 2 year statute of limitations applying to the for-profit corporation. To make this issue even more complicated, the tort claim notice deadline may not apply to county-hospital-owned nursing homes if they are considered “qualified healthcare providers” under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act. The bottom line is that it is critical that you contact a qualified attorney with experience in handling nursing home negligence/abuse cases in Indiana to guide you on this issue.
Admission Agreement Deadlines
Another complicating issue is that some healthcare providers attempt to shorten the period of time one has to file a civil lawsuit by sneaking a provision into the admission paperwork. If a nursing home inserts a provision in the admission agreement that purports to require the patient (or patient’s family) to file any claim within a period of time that is shorter than the 2 year statute of limitations, the nursing home may argue that this contractual provision overrides the statute of limitations and a failure to comply with the shorter deadline set forth in the admission agreement serves to bar any claim filed after such period. These attempts to strip patients and their families of their legal rights should be considered unconscionable. Again, it is important to consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible after suspecting neglect or abuse so that the admission agreement may be reviewed and the applicable deadlines determined.
What You Should Do If You Think You Missed A Deadline
So, what should you do if you want to sue a nursing home but think you have missed either a tort claim notice deadline, or the 2 year statute of limitations? First, don’t assume that your case cannot be still be filed. Second, consult an attorney without delay. There are a number of legal exceptions that can apply in some instances which can still enable the claimant to pursue a lawsuit against a nursing home. These exceptions require a very complex analysis of the facts and are beyond the scope of this article. An attorney with experience in handling nursing home abuse and neglect claims in Indiana can properly guide you on these very important, but complicated, issues. Most such attorneys will review your case and pursue it on a contingency basis, meaning you will not be charged any hourly fee. The attorney will be paid if, and only if, he or she successfully resolves your case.
Other Reasons To Avoid Delay
Aside from the necessity to comply with legal deadlines imposed upon those who may want to sue a nursing home, there are other obvious reasons to act in a timely matter to engage an attorney. The longer one waits to begin the investigation of a case, the greater the risk that witnesses’ memories will fade and important documents and other evidence may be lost. The more time an attorney has to investigate a case before the filing deadlines, the better.
The the most important take-away is this: do not delay seeking legal representation if you are considering the pursuit of a possible nursing home neglect/abuse claim. By acting in a timely manner, you can help hold bad nursing homes accountable.
Jeff Powless is an attorney and the author of the 2017 book, Abuses and Excuses: How To Hold Bad Nursing Homes Accountable. Abuses and Excuses breaks new ground in helping patients and families hold bad nursing homes accountable, sharing a wealth of insider strategies and insights. It’s an eye opening account of corporate greed, acts of neglect and abuse, an insidious industry culture of cover-up, and the actual harm that inevitably befalls vulnerable nursing home patients all across the country with shocking frequency.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article is NOT a substitute for legal advice. The facts and circumstances of each case are different, and therefore the applicability of statutes of limitations and other deadlines may depend upon the particular circumstances in each case. You should always consult a qualified attorney to determine what filing and other deadlines may apply to your case.
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