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According to data collected by the National Practitioner Data Bank, there were 21 medical malpractice payment reports in Alaska in 2022. This figure makes the Last Frontier among the states with the lowest medical malpractice reports, together with North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

While a low number of incidents is definitely a good thing, Alaskans covered by medical insurance have suffered from limited financial awards from their medical practice lawsuits. It was only in November 2022 that the Alaska Supreme Court declared certain provisions in AS § 09.55.548 from 1976 unconstitutional.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the law required that the value of other sources of compensation, such as insurance payouts, must be subtracted from the financial awards received from a successful medical malpractice claim. Many insurance companies took advantage of this and added a clause in their contracts that allowed them to take back the compensation they had previously paid to the injured policyholder. As a result, medical malpractice plaintiffs who had medical insurance suffered from a double deduction.

This issue of medical malpractice compensation shows why it is important to understand the laws governing personal injury or negligence claims. In this article, we look at medical malpractice from a legal standpoint, covering topics like the grounds for a lawsuit, the rights of injured patients, the recoverable damages, and the statute of limitations for filing a claim.

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice in Alaska?

Under Alaska’s medical malpractice laws, medical malpractice is a form of professional negligence. It occurs when a healthcare provider fails to meet the acceptable standard of care within their field of practice, and their negligence causes injury to the patient or exacerbates an existing condition.

Unlike some other states, Alaska does not make any distinction between medical malpractice and medical negligence. The following acts or omissions are some of the common grounds for medical malpractice cases in Alaska:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a medical condition, potentially leading to delayed treatment of preventable diseases or worsening of the illness.

  • Improper administration of medication through incorrect dosages or without consideration of known allergies.

  • Accidentally leaving surgical tools within the patient’s body, operating on the wrong body parts, carrying out unnecessary surgeries, and not taking adequate precautions to prevent postoperative infections.

  • Neglecting to inform the patient about the possible risks of a treatment or procedure and failing to obtain their informed consent.

  • Using unsanitary medical tools and causing infections.

  • Administering anesthesia in incorrect doses.

  • Failure to safely deliver a newborn and causing preventable birth injuries.

Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Alaska?

Alaska allows medical malpractice victims to pursue legal action against any licensed healthcare provider. This includes doctors and nurses, pharmaceutical companies, facilities that provide specialized medical care, and hospital personnel assisting in the delivery of a baby. The following specialists are also subject to the state’s medical malpractice laws:

  • Acupuncturists

  • Dentists

  • Opticians and optometrists

  • Physical and occupational therapists

  • Psychologists.


As defined by AS § 09.55.554, patients cannot file a medical malpractice claim against a healthcare provider over oral contracts. This means that you cannot hold a medical professional liable for failing to achieve specific medical outcomes, even if they made a verbal promise or guarantee about a particular result.

Alaska’s Good Samaritan Law

During emergencies, a civilian may provide voluntary medical attention; however, there are instances that this may lead to further complications, especially if the person delivering emergency care lacks medical expertise. Good Samaritan laws exist to protect such individuals from civil liability that may arise from carrying out emergency procedures.

Alaska’s Good Samaritan Law covers not only regular civilians but also medical personnel. However, intentional misconduct or acts of gross negligence are not protected from liability. For example, if someone tries to harm a patient while pretending to be providing emergency care, the law will not grant them immunity.

There are also a few advanced life support techniques that do not fall under the state’s Good Samaritan law. Unless the person administering such techniques is legally authorized to do so, they will be liable for medical malpractice if something goes wrong in the process and injures the patient. These techniques are: 

  • Intravenous therapy

  • Intramuscular therapy

  • Manual electric cardiac defibrillation

  • Endotracheal intubation

  • Antiarrhythmic agent administration.

Medical personnel who have a pre-existing duty to provide emergency care are also among those not covered by the Good Samaritan Law.

Sovereign Immunity in Alaska

In some states, government-run medical facilities have sovereign immunity, which shields them from or limits their liability when it comes to lawsuits. Alaska is among the states that have waived their sovereign immunity, the extent of which is defined in AS § 09.50.250

Generally, state employees whose duty requires that they exercise due care are not immune from intentional tort claims. For instance, a nurse working for a state hospital disregards the rules regarding how to carry out a procedure. If a patient suffers an injury due to the nurse’s action, they may pursue legal action against the nurse and the state hospital.

However, acts that are part of policy formation, such as planning decisions, cannot give rise to a tort action against the government, meaning the responsible state employee is immune from lawsuits.

Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Requirements

Healthcare professionals in Alaska are not required to have liability insurance for medical malpractice. However, some healthcare facilities may impose minimum insurance coverage for visiting doctors, which typically amounts to $1 million per claim and $3 million in aggregate. Some medical experts may also opt to voluntarily purchase insurance if their field of practice is considered high-risk.

What Is the Statute of Limitations in Alaska for Medical Malpractice Cases?

Medical malpractice claims in Alaska follow the same statute of limitations for personal injury cases, set at two years. This countdown starts ticking from the date when the malpractice occurred. If the malpractice results in the death of the patient, then the bereaved also have two years from the victim’s date of death to file a case.

Failure to file within the deadline may permanently bar a medical malpractice victim from recovering compensation for their damages, except in certain circumstances. For instance, if a medical malpractice victim is still a minor at the time of the offense, Alaska’s medical malpractice law allows them to pursue legal action up to two years after their 18th birthday. 

The statute of limitations is also tolled for individuals who do not have the mental capacity to file a suit. From the date their incapacity ceases, they have two years to bring an action for medical malpractice.

Discovery Rule

There are cases where the harm done by a healthcare provider or medical procedure may not be immediately apparent to the victim. In such scenarios, the discovery rule may apply. 

Under this rule, the standard two-year statute of limitation is tolled until the victim discovers the injury due to medical malpractice. If the victim suspects medical malpractice but a diagnosis fails to establish a cause of action, then the statute of limitation remains tolled until they receive a more concrete confirmation.

Alaska’s discovery rule also applies to known injuries that were not previously thought to have been caused by medical malpractice. In such cases, the countdown will only start once the victim establishes that the injury was due to the negligence of a healthcare provider.

Statute of Repose

The statute of repose refers to the absolute limit beyond the standard two-year statute of limitations. In Alaska, a victim has a maximum of 10 years to file a claim from the date of the malpractice, regardless of the discovery rule. However, a few exceptions still apply to this absolute limit:

  • There is evidence that the healthcare provider has taken deliberate measures to conceal the injuries caused by their malpractice. In this case, the statute of repose may be extended.

  • The malpractice is an intentional act on the part of the healthcare provider, or there is evidence of gross negligence. In this case, the victim can still sue even after 10 years have passed.

What Do You Need to Prove in an Alaska Medical Malpractice Case?

When pursuing legal action against a healthcare provider, you must be able to prove the following:

  • You had a doctor-patient relationship with the defendant. This is the most basic step, as you cannot sue anyone who has never provided you with medical care.

  • There exists an appropriate medical standard of care for your case. The standard of care is determined on a case-by-case basis, and you can use relevant medical literature to establish it.

  • The defendant has failed to provide the appropriate medical standard of care. You can use a medical expert’s witness testimony as evidence that the defendant’s actions did not meet the expected standards.

  • The defendant’s breach of care resulted in your injuries. You can prove this by presenting a medical report and other diagnostic documents detailing the harm that the defendant’s negligence has done to you.

It is also worth keeping in mind that Alaska is among the states with an “I’m Sorry” law, which allows healthcare providers to express their sympathy without risking being held liable in a medical malpractice suit. In essence, plaintiffs cannot use a defendant’s apology as evidence of admission of guilt in a lawsuit.

How Much Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Alaska?

It is important for victims to have an accurate estimation of how much their case is worth, especially since injuries due to medical malpractice have potential long-term consequences. 

Statistics from the NPDB show that in 2021, the total payouts for the 13 cases in Alaska amounted to $3.97 million, or around $310,000 per case. Keep in mind that the amount of payout you are due still depends on the specifics of your case. A medical malpractice lawyer can help you recover fair compensation for your injuries.

Types of Damages

Medical malpractice victims in Alaska can recover economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages have a quantifiable amount and are usually supplemented by receipts and other documentation. There is no cap for economic damages, and it covers the following expenses:

  • Medical bills: In most cases, the victim will have to undergo one or more medical procedures to remedy the injuries caused by the malpractice. Compensation for medical bills also includes the cost of medication and projected expenses for future medical treatment.

  • Lost wages and earning potential: Recovering from a medical injury can prevent the victim from going to work, or in more extreme situations, it may prevent them from going back to work in the same capacity as before the injury. In such cases, they may be eligible to recover compensation for their lost income and diminished earning capacity.

On the other hand, non-economic damages are paid for intangible consequences, such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment in life. In Alaska, non-economic damages are capped at $250,000. However, if the malpractice results in wrongful death or leaves the victim with a severe permanent physical impairment deemed to be over 70% debilitating, then the victim may receive $8,000 multiplied by their life expectancy in years or $400,000, whichever is higher.

Punitive damages may also be awarded for extraordinary cases of gross negligence. This is capped at thrice the sum of economic and non-economic damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater. However, half of the punitive damages will go to the state.

Negligence System

Alaska follows a pure comparative negligence system when it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits. This means that the amount of compensation you are due will be reduced in proportion to the amount of fault you share for your injuries. 

Even if you are 95% at fault for your damages, you will still receive 5% of the compensation a healthcare provider owes you for their share of fault. For example, if the court finds that your damages amount to $100,000 but you share 65% of the fault, you will only receive 35% of your compensation, or $35,000.

Methods of Obtaining Compensation

Medical malpractice cases do not always have to go to court. Pursuing legal action can be time-consuming, and there are still expenses you may have to pay out-of-pocket, even if you are in a contingency fee arrangement with your lawyer. If you have some disagreements with the terms or the amount of compensation the liable party is offering you, then you may opt for mediation or alternative dispute resolution.

How Much Does It Cost to Pursue a Medical Malpractice Case in Alaska?

Before pursuing a medical malpractice case, you need to be aware of the possible expenses you may incur throughout the process. For example, you have to pay for filing and other processing fees, the cost of hiring medical experts who will testify on your behalf, and the remuneration your attorney must receive for their service.

Medical malpractice lawyers either charge a fixed fee, provide an hourly fee for their services or propose a contingency-based fee. Alaska does not regulate the percentage of fees a contingency-based attorney may collect, but on average, the amount is equivalent to 25%–40% of the damages awarded to you after a successful case. Thus, you must put a lot of consideration into choosing your attorney.

Legal Resources for Medical Malpractice Victims in  Alaska

Finding justice while dealing with the consequences of medical malpractice can be a tough battle to fight. You may get in touch with the following organizations in Alaska that can take some weight off your shoulders through their services:

Alaska Legal Services Corporation

Established in 1967 as a nonprofit law firm, Alaska Legal Services Corporation helps Alaskans obtain access to vital healthcare services such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Denali KidCare. Its partnership with AmeriCorps has led to the establishment of Medical-Legal partnerships in Anchorage, Sitka, Nome, Fairbanks, Kodiak, and Kenai. MLP-affiliated healthcare providers can help refer patients with civil legal problems to attorneys who provide legal assistance to qualified individuals at no cost.

Alaska Bar Association

The Alaska Bar Association offers a wealth of legal resources on state laws and helps locals connect with pro bono legal service providers. It also simplifies the process of finding attorneys who provide unbundled legal services, which can be helpful to medical malpractice victims who do not wish to sue but may need help with mediation or alternative dispute resolution.

Disability Law Center of Alaska

The Disability Law Center of Alaska is the Last Frontier’s Protection and Advocacy agency, as mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1975. It provides legal representation to all people suffering from disabilities. DLC helps its beneficiaries with their Medicaid appeals and social security applications, advocates for their rights, and grants them access to special education programs.

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