What is Medical Malpractice?

North Carolina medical malpractice laws are strictly defined by statute. The laws set not only the statute of limitations on malpractice claims but also the maximum amount a patient may collect in a successful malpractice case. Here are some basics about medical malpractice law that everyone should know.

What is malpractice?

Malpractice is when a doctor or a relevant medical provider, like a physician’s assistant or a nurse, breaches and/or violates the standard of care during your treatment. Standard of care refers to the generally accepted practices and procedures used by healthcare professionals in the same geographic area for treating patients with a particular disease or disorder. The standard of care changes depending on the type of treatment provided.

Treatment is often thought of as what the doctor provides to a patient to alleviate and ailment but in terms of medical malpractice treatment can also include diagnosis, application of anesthesia, and surgery, among other things.

In addition to breaching the standard of care, the doctor’s act or omission must have been the direct cause of your injuries.  In order to prove this, usually an outside medical expert will have to examine your claim and testify on your behalf in court.

North Carolina Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations dictates the length of time a patient has to file suit against a medical provider.  There are several factors that determine the length of the statute of limitations:

  • Patients have three years from the date of treatment that caused the injuries; or
  • Within one year of when the injury was or should have been discovered.
  • In either case, no claim may be brought more than four years after the act or omission that caused the injury.
  • An exception is made for cases where a foreign object is left in a patient by a surgeon or hospital staff.  In these cases, the lawsuit must be brought within one year of the discovery of the foreign object but no later than ten years from the date of surgery.
  • Lawsuits for wrongful death must always be brought within two years of the date of the death.

Damage Caps in North Carolina

There are three types of damages available in North Carolina Medical Malpractice claims: compensatory damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.

  • Compensatory damages cover the cost of past, present, and future medical expenses towards treatment of the injury and lost wages. There is no cap on compensatory damages.
  • Non-economic damages– are damages that compensate the victim for things like pain and suffering.
    • Non-economic damages are capped at $500,000, adjusted for inflation.
    • The only exception is where either (a) the plaintiff suffered disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death or (b) the defendant’s act or omission was committed in reckless disregard of the rights of others, grossly negligent, fraudulent, intentional or with malice.
    • Punitive damages are damages intended to punish a healthcare provider for willful or wanton actions like causing injury with intent to harm. North Carolina limits these damages. A victim may only receive either $250,000 or three times the amount of the compensatory damages –whichever is greater.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a medical malpractice consult with a medical malpractice attorney before filing a claim. They will be able to assess your case’s strengths and weaknesses.


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