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Alaska Medical Malpractice Law - An Overview

Important Notice: The following overview of Alaska's medical malpractice laws is presented on an as-is basis. This information is believed accurate as of the date of authorship, but is not intended to provide a complete analysis of medical malpractice law and may not reflect subsequent changes in the law. For a full review of Alaska's medical malpractice law, or for a determination of how the law applies to a specific incident or injury, please consult a malpractice lawyer licensed to practice in the state of Alaska.

Contents

What Is Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice, sometimes referred to as medical negligence, occurs when a health care provider violates the governing standard of care when providing treatment to a patient, causing the patient to suffer an injury. Medical malpractice can result from an action taken by the medical practitioner, or by the failure to take a medically appropriate action. Examples of medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis of, or failure to diagnose , a disease or medical condition;
  • Failure to provide appropriate treatment for a medical condition;
  • Unreasonable delay in treating a diagnosed medical condition;

Medical malpractice actions can be brought by the injured patient against any responsible licensed health care provider, including doctors, counselors, psychologists and psychotherapists.

Limits on Malpractice Damages

Alaska imposes a damages cap on non-economic damages in the amount of $400,000.00 for most injuries, with the cap raised to $1,000,000.00 for cases involving severe impairment and disfigurement. It is expected that Alaska will lower its cap to $250,000.00 by the end of 2005.

Punitive damages are limited to $500,000.00 or three times compensatory damages.

Collateral Source Rule

Under a traditional collateral source rule, a defendant may not seek to reduce its liability by introducing evidence that the plaintiff has received compensation from other sources, such as the plaintiff's own insurance coverage. For medical malpractice cases in Alaska, the defendant may introduce evidence of collateral source payments after judgment, to offset damages.

Rules for Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses must be trained and certified in the defendant's specialty, and must be certified by a board recognized in the state of Alaska.

Joint and Several Liability

Under a traditional rule of joint and several liability, where more than one defendant is found liable for the injury suffered by a plaintiff, each defendant is individually liable for the entire amount of the judgment, such that if one defendant is unable to pay the other defendant or defendants are liable for the entire amount of the judgment. Alaska has modified this rule, such that each defendant is liable only to the extent of that defendant's relative percentage of fault.

Statute of Limitations

Medical malpractice actions must be commenced within 2 years of the date the person discovers, or should have discovered, the existence of the cause of action. A minor injured by medical malpractice must file suit within two years plus one day of his or her eighteenth birthday, or within two years plus one day of the date of the minor's marriage. (With court approval, a minor in Alaska can be married at the age of 14.)

Limits on Attorney Fees

Alaska does not limit attorney fees in malpractice cases.

Additional Rules

Alaska permits health care providers to contract with patients to resolve any malpractice claims through arbitration, but an arbitration clause cannot be made a prerequisite to receipt of care or treatment.

An expert advisory panel is appointed to review each malpractice case, and reports back on the case within thirty days of its selection. The report of the advisory panel is admissible as evidence at trial. The panel is not required if the parties submit to arbitration, or if the requirement is waived by the court.

Why Use A Malpractice Lawyer

Medical malpractice law is a highly technical field of law, and malpractice lawsuits tend to be fiercely defended by well-funded defense firms.

Medical malpractice lawsuits can be exceptionally expensive to pursue, with costs often exceeding $100,000.00. Due to the technical skills involved in prosecuting a malpractice claim, the possibility that an inexperienced lawyer may not be sufficiently conversant with the medical issues, or might make a technical error which causes a case to be lost or dismissed, and the very high costs the malpractice law firm typically must advance, an injured patient is very well served by going with a specialist firm.

Even within the specialized practice of medical malpractice law, you will find that some lawyers have subspecialties of practice, for example focusing on surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or birth trauma cases.