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Montana Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

What to do when you or a loved one are hurt by a health care professional

What happens when you have a medical malpractice case in Montana? Are there special procedures you have to follow? What damages might you be able to recover?

Contrary to popular belief, medical students don't swear to "first, do no harm" immediately after graduating. While some medical schools ask their graduates to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, the Oath doesn't contain the phrase "first, do no harm."

Nevertheless, most newly-minted doctors promise one way or another to treat their patients competently and properly. But doctors are human too, and sometimes they fail to perform to the best of their abilities—or they fail to exercise the degree of care and skill expected of a reasonably competent practitioner.

When this happens, a medical malpractice claim might be appropriate.

Medical malpractice claims are more complicated than most other personal injury claims. This article examines medical malpractice claims in Montana, including the ways in which they differ from other personal injury claims.

Murphy Law Firm
Murphy Law Firm

Montana Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
(406) 452-2345 Specialty: Workers' Compensation

What is medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed because a health care professional deviates from the accepted standard of care.

A study by Johns Hopkins University suggests that medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, and a recent report indicates that there are roughly 15 medical malpractice lawsuits for every 100,000 people in Montana.

A medical malpractice claim can be filed against any health care professional, including the following:

  • Physician
  • Surgeon
  • Physician assistant
  • Dentist
  • Dental hygienist
  • Registered nurse
  • Nursing home or hospital administrator
  • Dispensing optician
  • Optometrist
  • Licensed physical therapist
  • Podiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Osteopath
  • Chiropractor
  • Clinical laboratory technologist
  • Pharmacist
  • Veterinarian
  • Licensed hospital or long-term care facility
  • Licensed medical professional corporation

Examples of acts that commonly result in medical malpractice claims include:
  • Failure to diagnose an illness
  • Misdiagnosis of an illness
  • Misreading an important lab result
  • Prescribed improper medication or dosage
  • Failure to follow proper medical procedure
  • Failure to warn a patient of known risks
  • Prematurely discharging a patient

In The News: Helena resident Jerri Woodring-Thueson suffered a stroke while mountain biking. She was later sent to Harborview Medical Center's Stroke Center in Seattle, which advertised the availability of board-certified neurologists 24/7. While at Harborview, Jerri's symptoms worsened as she was mostly treated by inexperienced interns and residents. She eventually suffered an occlusion of her basilar artery, but it still took hours for a doctor to see her and stent the artery. As a result, Jerri is now completely paralyzed on her right side and has limited use of her left side. She filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Harborview and its doctors. After a lengthy trial, the court found that Harborview and 2 of its doctors were negligent, and the court awarded Jerri $25 million in damages.

Elements of a medical malpractice claim in Montana

In order to establish a medical malpractice claim in Montana, you must prove the following 2 elements:

  1. Your health care provider failed to exercise the degree of care and skill expected of a reasonably competent health care professional acting in the same or a similar community in the United States, and
  2. Such failure was the proximate cause of your injury.

In a medical malpractice case, the main focus of the lawsuit will generally be on what the health care provider should have done in a specific set of circumstances. The standard by which the health care professional is judged is called the "medical standard of care."

While most health care professionals in Montana are expected to exercise the degree of care and skill expected of a reasonably competent health care professional acting in a similar community, the medical standard of care that a board-certified specialist must meet is slightly higher.

A board-certified specialist must exercise the reasonable and ordinary degree of learning, skill, and care exercised by practitioners of good standing who hold the same national board certification. 

Special requirements for malpractice lawsuits in Montana

Montana has a unique procedural rule that requires plaintiffs to file a claim with the Montana Medical Legal Panel (MMLP) before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in Montana must file a claim with the Montana Medical Legal Panel before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Tweet this

The claim must include the following information:

  • A reasonably detailed statement describing the health care provider's conduct, the dates on which the conduct occurred, and the names and addresses of all known witnesses.
  • A statement authorizing the MMLP to obtain access to all medical records and information pertaining to the claim.

The MMLP will review the claim, consult with expert witnesses, and determine whether the claim has merit. If the MMLP determines that the claim is legitimate, they will notify the involved parties and may attempt to help the parties reach a settlement.

The purpose of this procedural rule is to prevent baseless claims from clogging the court system and to encourage the settlement of legitimate claims.

Medical malpractice statute of limitations in Montana

Medical malpractice claims must generally be filed within 2 years after the date of injury or within 2 years after the plaintiff discovers (or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered) the injury.

However, there are a few important points to keep in mind:

  • The statute of limitations will change to 3 years beginning on July 1, 2019.
  • In no case may an action be filed after 5 years from the date of injury. 
  • In an action for death or injury of a minor who was under the age of 4 on the date of the minor's injury, the statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the minor reaches their 8th birthday or dies (whichever occurs first).
  • A notice of claim must be filed within 180 days of the injury when the defendant is a government-run healthcare facility or the services were provided by a government institution.
Enjuris tip: When it comes to medical malpractice cases, determining when you must file a lawsuit can be difficult. Don't hesitate to reach out to a Montana attorney as soon as you think you have a claim.

What damages can be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit?

In Montana, a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit can recover both economic and non-economic damages. However, like many states, Montana has passed a law that limits (or "caps") non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the types of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit, including examples of economic and non-economic damages.

Montana's cap for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases is set at $250,000. The cap is per incident of malpractice. For example, if a plaintiff sues 1 doctor for 2 separate instances of medical malpractice, the plaintiff can receive (at most) $500,000.

Montana Good Samaritan law

Montana has 1 more "limitation" you should know about. Any licensed health care professional who renders emergency care or assistance without compensation at the scene of an emergency is immune (not liable) for civil damages unless the health care professional acted in a grossly negligent manner or wilfully harmed the person.

This is referred to as the "good Samaritan immunity law," and it applies, for example, to a case where a doctor having dinner in a restaurant provides aid to a choking victim.

Still think you might have a medical malpractice claim? Use our free online directory to contact a Montana attorney in your area.

Still not finding what you need?
Check out our other articles on medical malpractice in Montana.

Did you know that medical malpractice law varies by state?

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