Minnesota Medical Malpractice Summary

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Statutes of Limitations

Minnesota provides that all professional liability claims against health care providers, regardless of the injury or the basis of the cause of action, must be brought within two years from the date the cause of action accrued. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.07 (West Supp. 1998). This section also governs wrongful death actions based on medical malpractice. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 573.02 (West 1988). Generally, Minnesota courts do not adhere to a liberal discovery rule, but look to the last date of treatment as the date upon which a medical malpractice cause of action accrues. Offerdahl v. University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics, 426 N.W.2d 425 (Minn. 1988).

The statute of limitations is tolled during a claimant’s insanity. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.15 (West Supp. 1998). However, an infant’s claim must be asserted within seven years from the date of the occurrence, or one year after the claimant reaches the age of majority, whichever period is shorter. Id.

Contributory or Comparative Negligence

Minnesota has adopted the doctrine of modified comparative negligence. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 604.01 (West 1988 & Supp. 1998). Under this doctrine, a claimant’s action is barred if his fault exceeds the combined fault of all defendants. Otherwise, the claimant’s recovery is diminished in proportion to his degree of fault. Id. The negligence of non-parties is taken into account in apportioning fault. Lines v. Ryan, 272 N.W.2d 896 (1978).

Joint and Several Liability

Minnesota has a modified form of joint and several liability. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 604.02 (West 1988 & Supp. 1998). Except in cases of environmental tort, a person whose fault is fifteen percent or less is liable for a percentage no greater than four times his percentage of fault. If the fault of the state or a municipality is less than 35 percent, it is liable for no more than twice its percentage of fault. Id. If one of the defendants is uncollectible, the court will, on motion made within one year, reallocate his share to the others. Id.

Contribution

Contribution is in proportion to percentage of fault. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 604.02 (West 1988 & Supp. 1998). A tortfeasor may elect to sue for contribution in the principal action or in a separate action. Anderson v. Gabrielson, 267 Minn. 176, 126 N.W.2d 239 (1964).

Vicarious Liability

Minnesota has not recognized the principle of ostensible or apparent agency as a means by which to hold a hospital liable for the negligent acts of its non-employed, independently-contracted physicians. A hospital can only be held vicariously liable for the acts of physicians it employs. McElwain v. Van Beek, 447 N.W.2d 442 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989). Moreover, an unusual line of Minnesota cases holds that when a hospital turns over to a doctor the right to direct and control the activities of one of its employee nurses, the nurse becomes a “borrowed servant” of the doctor and the doctor, not the hospital, is vicariously responsible for the nurse’s conduct. Synnott v. Midway Hospital, 287 Minn. 270, 178 N.W.2d 211 (1970).

Expert Testimony

At the time of filing the summons and complaint, or within 180 days thereafter, a medical malpractice claimant’s attorney must file an affidavit stating that the facts of the case have been reviewed by a qualified expert who found that the defendant’s actions deviated from the applicable standard of care. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 145.682 (West 1989 & Supp. 1997). To establish a prima facie case, plaintiff must have evidence of the standard of care, that the defendant departed from that standard, and that the departure caused the injury. He requires expert testimony of each of these when these issues are not within the common knowledge of laymen. Reinhart v. Colton, 337 N.W.2d 88 (Minn. 1983).

Damage Caps

Minnesota has not enacted a cap on the damages that can be awarded in a medical malpractice case.

Statutory Cap on Attorneys’ Fees

Minnesota does not place a limit on attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice actions.

Periodic Payments

When future damages are awarded in an amount greater than $100,000, the court must hold a hearing to determine if the damages should be paid as they are incurred. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 549.25 (West Supp. 1998). The court must investigate the claimant’s financial ability to meet obligations, the advantages of a structured settlement, and the claimant’s interest in determining his own financial affairs. Id. However, the court’s function is merely to assist the claimant in determining whether to establish a periodic payment plan.

Collateral Source Rule

A party may move the court to determine the effect of collateral source payments on the damage award. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 548.36 (West 1988 & Supp. 1998). The term “collateral source” includes governmental benefits programs, all insurance (except life insurance), social security, pensions, and independent contracts for health services. Id. The court (and not the jury) must reduce the award of damages by the amount of any collateral benefits, offset by payments made by plaintiff or his family to secure those benefits. Id.

Pre-Judgment Interest

For pecuniary damages, interest accrues from the time the action is commenced or the time a written settlement demand was made, whichever occurs first. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 549.09 (West Supp. 1998). If both parties make a settlement offer, and the amount of the losing party’s offer is closer to the judgment than the prevailing party’s offer, the prevailing party is only entitled to interest on the amount of the settlement offer, and only from the time the action was commenced. Id. The applicable interest rate is calculated annually by the State Court Administrator based on that of one-year United States Treasury bills. Id. The 1997 interest rate on judgments was 5 percent. Id.

Patient Compensation Funds and Physician Insurance

Minnesota does not have a patient compensation fund or a program of state-sponsored liability insurance for physicians.

Immunities

The State of Minnesota has waived immunity from liability for acts conducted by state employees acting within the scope of their employment. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 3.736 (West 1997 & Supp. 1998). The state is immune from liability when the loss is based on the usual care and treatment, or lack of care and treatment, of a patient at a state hospital where reasonable use of available appropriations was used to provide for the patient’s care. Id.

The state is immune from liability for punitive damages. Id. The state’s liability for compensatory damages is limited to $200,000 per claimant and $600,000 per occurrence for claims arising before January 1, 1998, $300,000 per claim and $750,000 per occurrence for claims arising on or after January 1, 1998, and $300,000 per claim and $1,000,000 per occurrence for claims arising on or after January 1, 2000. Id. A state agency may obtain liability insurance, and to the extent the insurance exceeds the above-noted statutory limits, the state is deemed to have waived its governmental immunity. Id.

The state has waived immunity for its municipalities, cities, counties, towns, and other political subdivisions. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 466.02 (West 1994). The schedule of limits of liability for municipalities is the same as that set out above for the state. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 466.04 (West 1994 & Supp. 1998). Also, no award of damages can include punitive damages. Municipalities, like the state, are authorized to obtain insurance, which constitutes a waiver of immunity to the extent of coverage. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 466.06 (West 1994).

Arbitration

While Minnesota does not have a specific statute requiring that medical malpractice cases be arbitrated prior to litigation, the state courts are authorized to establish a system of mandatory, non-binding arbitration to assist the courts in disposing of any controversy which may lead to civil litigation. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 484.73 (West 1994 & Supp. 1998).

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Revision Date: February 6, 1998