Trap for the Unwary: Who your doctor works for may change how long you have to sue.

If you or a loved one are harmed by the medical malpractice of your care providers, you have a limited time in which to bring a claim.  These limitations are usually set by laws called “statutes of limitation.” These laws set certain time limits and identify any exceptions to these limits. How much time you have depends on a number of things, not least of which is who that care provider works for. If your attorney does not know that, they could make costly and potentially devastating mistakes.

If the care provider is employed by the United States, such as most VA doctors and nurses, then a federal law called the Federal Torts Claims Act (or FTCA) controls how long you may have to bring a claim. If the care provider is not employed by the United States, but by a private entity, then the laws of the particular state in which the acts occurred will control.

What if you don't know who they work for?  This situation can often arise in cases where some doctors who appear to be employed by a VA Medical Center are, in fact, contractors, and not employees of the United States. Therefore, they are not covered by the FTCA, but the relevant state laws instead.  Another situation arose in a case described in the following article: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/ftca-minority-tolling-and-challenges-statute-limitations.

In the above case, tragically, the person hurt was a newborn baby. The doctor seemed to work for Sharon Regional Hospital, a private facility in Pennsylvania. However, the doctor was actually an employee of the Primary Health Network, what is known as a Community Health Center. Many of these Community Health Centers are funded by the United States and their employees are therefore often covered under the FTCA.

That means, the FTCA, not Pennsylvania law determined how long they had to sue.  Pennsylvania's statute of limitation has a way to "toll" (or delay) the time limit if the person harmed was under 18 at the time. The FTCA does not. In this case, they waited to sue, relying on Pennsylvania’s tolling of the statute of limitation for a person under 18.  They found out after they went to court that the doctor was actually an employee of the Community Health Center and was, instead, covered by the FTCA. That meant they were too late to sue.

There are other differences between the FTCA and a variety of State's statutes of limitation. it is important to know who the care provider actually works for and to know the differences between the state laws and the FTCA. Not knowing this meant that the folks in the case above were relying on the wrong law and now are too late.

It is crucial that you know who actually employs a care provider who you believe caused you harm, not just where they work. Rawls law group has been bringing claims under the FTCA for years and we work hard to make sure that we investigate these issues and others that are specific to the FTCA so that our client’s rights are protected.

Visit our site dedicated to FTCA claims against the federal government at www.vet4vet.net.

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