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What Constitutes Medical Malpractice in California?

In a California medical malpractice case, you are alleging that a licensed health care provider deviated from the accepted standard of care while treating you and that this deviation caused you injury. The health care provider can be a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, etc. and/or a hospital or other health care facility. Substandard care could be an act or a failure to act.

As explains, most medical malpractice lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence, and that negligence can take many forms, including the following:

  • Failing to diagnose your illness
  • Misdiagnosing your condition
  • Performing the wrong surgery on you
  • Failing to give you appropriate treatment or failing to provide┬átreatment in a timely manner
  • Failing to obtain your informed consent or changing a surgical procedure or course of treatment after obtaining it


In California, you can collect both economic and noneconomic damages from negligent health care providers. Economic damages include such things as your medical costs and/or lost wages; noneconomic damages generally refer to your pain and suffering. California caps the number of noneconomic damages you can recover at $250,000. If there are multiple defendants, each one is liable for its proportion of the fault.

If you can prove that the action or nonaction by the health care provider was egregious, you also may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are a dollar amount, usually high, that the judge and/or jury assesses against the defendant as punishment.

Statute of limitations

Under California law, you must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within three years from the date when your injury occurred or within one year from the time you discover or reasonably should have discovered the injury, whichever is shorter. If, however, your discovery of the injury is delayed by fraud, intentional concealment, or foreign body, the statute is tolled. This means that it does not start to run until you discover or reasonably should have discovered the injury. If the injured person is your child under the age of six, you may file a lawsuit on his or her behalf within three years from the date of injury or at any time before your child reaches the age of eight, whichever is longer.

The information presented here should not be taken as legal advice. It can, however, help you understand the process and what to expect.

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