In Utah, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a pretty complicated undertaking, especially when compared with other types of civil lawsuits. That's because, on one hand, the medical and legal issues common to these kinds of lawsuits are complex, and most cases include the introduction of extensive treatment records as well as the detailed testimony of numerous medical experts. And on the other hand, a Utah medical malpractice plaintiff must comply with certain procedural rules before filing the complaint (that's the document that ordinarily starts a civil lawsuit).
These safeguards have been put in place as part of tort reform efforts, which seek to discourage the filing of frivolous injury-related lawsuits. In this article, we'll summarize some of the most important of these rules in Utah, including the filing of a "notice of intent" to sue, getting "prelitigation review" of the case, and more.
"Notice of Intent" and Pre-Lawsuit Panel
Before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in the state's courts, Utah Code section 78B-3-412 requires the prospective plaintiff to give each health care provider at least 90 days' notice of the intent to start the lawsuit. This notice may be in letter or affidavit form, but it must include:
- a general statement as to the nature of the injured patient's claim
- identification of the persons involved (including all health care providers)
- the date, time, and place of the alleged harm to the patient
- the circumstances surrounding the plaintiff's claim
- specific allegations of misconduct on the part of the prospective defendant health care provider, and
- the nature of the alleged injuries and other losses suffered by the patient.
The prospective plaintiff must also, within 60 days of serving the "notice of intent," file a request for "prelitigation panel review" of his or her claim. This request must be filed with the state's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, and must be accompanied by a copy of the above-described "notice of intent."
The panel will decide, within 30 days, whether the potential plaintiff's claim:
- has merit, or
- has no merit.
(Learn more: Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?)
If the panel decides the claim has merit, or if the potential plaintiff files a compliant "affidavit of merit" (more on this in the next section), the potential plaintiff will get a "certificate of compliance" indicating that all pre-litigation requirements have been met.
(Note: If the injured patient and the health care provider who may be sued agree that "no useful purpose would be served by convening a prelitigation panel," then no such review will be necessary, and a "certificate of compliance" will be issued.)
The "Affidavit of Merit" Requirement for Utah Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
In an effort to demonstrate that a potential medical malpractice case has merit, even after the above-described prelitigation review panel issues a finding of "no merit," the potential plaintiff (usually through his or her attorney) can file an "affidavit of merit," according to Utah Code section 78B-3-423.
This affidavit must state that the potential plaintiff has consulted with, and reviewed the facts of the case with, a health care provider who has determined that there is a "reasonable and meritorious cause for the filing of" a medical malpractice action.
The health care provider (who must qualify as an expert under Utah law) must swear under oath that, in his or her opinion:
- there are reasonable grounds to believe that the health care provider breached the applicable standard of care, and
- the breach was a proximate cause of the potential plaintiff's claimed injuries.
More Information on Utah Medical Malpractice Cases
A Utah medical malpractice plaintiff also needs to be aware of -- and be in compliance with -- the lawsuit filing deadline set by the Utah Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.
For more details on filing requirements and anything else related to a Utah medical malpractice case -- and of course, for legal advice that's tailored to your specific situation -- it may be time to talk with an experienced Utah medical malpractice lawyer.