Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Laws Staff Profile Picture
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A study conducted by financial services company Moneyzine covering the year 2021 showed that 199 medical malpractice claims were made in Massachusetts. Payouts in the state reached $120.10 million in total, while the average payout per case reached $600,000. The common errors noted statewide included surgical and medication errors, surgical mistakes, and the reception of inadequate or improper treatment. Meanwhile, based on data from 2022, Massachusetts ranked 26th among the 50 states when it came to the number of medical malpractice reports for the year.

It is important for the law to step in and offer protection to victims in the form of personal injury law in general and medical malpractice law in particular. Civil law intervenes to obtain damages from erring parties and make the plaintiffs as whole as possible.

This article will instruct plaintiffs on the finer points of medical malpractice laws in Massachusetts. It is best to be equipped should you become a victim. Education on the intricacies of personal injury and physician negligence law will go a long way in protecting your rights in case you get mired in a tortious event.

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts medical malpractice laws provide remedies for those who have been harmed by the errors, mistakes, and misconduct committed by doctors. The law is in place to dissuade negligent or deliberately harmful behavior on the part of medical professionals and to exclude negative outcomes where no fault was in play. There has to be a causal link between the negligent or wrongful act and the injury sustained by the plaintiff since medical procedures are naturally risky, and sometimes risks do not pay off even if no one is culpable.

There are four basic elements to medical malpractice in the state:

  1. A duty on the part of the healthcare provider to observe the proper standard of care under the law.

  2. A breach of the duty to observe the standard of care.

  3. Causation between factors 1 and 2.

  4. Damages suffered as a result of the previous three factors.

All four factors have to be present for a medical malpractice suit to prosper. Otherwise, the claimant will not recover damages, and the case will be seen as an instance of an unintended negative outcome, not a tort.

It is timely to differentiate between medical negligence and malpractice. In medical malpractice, there is a deliberate failure to follow the standard of care required under the law. In medical negligence, there is no intent to cause harm, but simple inadvertence that leads to the damage caused. In either case, restitution is due, and the plaintiff is best to seek advice from a medical malpractice lawyer.

Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Massachusetts?

Under Massachusetts medical malpractice law, one may sue all kinds of healthcare providers who had a hand in causing harm to the patient or claimant. This list includes:

  • Doctors.

  • Dentists.

  • Registered nurses.

  • Pharmacists.

  • Anesthesiologists.

  • Chiropractors.

  • Physical therapists.

Corporate entities like hospitals and clinics are also liable for medical torts, as are the employees, agents, and officers of these institutions who are acting within the scope and course of their employment.


The law in the state exempts certain individuals from liability in a medical malpractice suit. The big exemption is for good samaritans. Persons who, in good faith, give emergency care for free are not liable for their omissions or acts, as long as no wanton or grossly negligent act is involved. This means that any well-meaning stranger who honestly tries to help a wounded person and does not cause any reckless or deliberate harm is not liable for damages.

Note that this is not a foolproof shield against being sued; it is a matter of defense. What it does is raise the standard of fault needed to prove a tort case from simple negligence to either gross negligence or wanton misconduct. On the upside, the law covers all kinds of individuals, not just medical professionals.

As to medical workers in the public sector, the Massachusetts Torts Claims Act holds healthcare workers in the public sector liable for the injuries, loss of life, or loss of property that they inflict on their patients. The difference is that professionals in the public sector are immune to any levies on their properties to satisfy judgments. This means their assets cannot be liquidated to answer for court judgments, and judgments against them may not exceed $100,000.

Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Requirements

Massachusetts is one of the seven states in the union where medical malpractice insurance is needed for certain medical professionals, like advanced practice registered nurses and physicians. For nurses, the required coverage is at least $100,000 per claim, with a minimum annual aggregate of $300,000. These minimums are the same for physicians. 

Note that nothing is stopping medical professionals from seeking higher limits to protect themselves, just in case. 

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

Under Massachusetts medical malpractice laws, a plaintiff has to bring a suit against a medical practitioner within three years of the cause of action’s accrual. The accrual is whenever the claimant discovers the injury, which can be different from the date when a medical procedure was performed.

This is paired with a seven-year statute of repose. This means that there is a maximum of seven years from the occurrence of the malpractice for it to go to court. For example, if an injury resulting from malpractice becomes apparent in year six, the plaintiff has one more year to sue and not the full three years. Minors under the age of six also have until the age of nine to sue.

It is notable that the statute of repose does not come into play if the cause of action stems from an object left in the patient's body, where the grounds for suing do not expire. The principle of giving the claimant three years from discovery to sue is always applicable. To illustrate, even if the object is found six years after an operation, the patient may sue until nine years after the procedure.

What Do You Need to Prove in a Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Case?

A plaintiff in a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuit has to prove the four elements of the tort as previously mentioned: a duty of care, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. These four have to be proven with a preponderance of evidence. This is a level of evidence that is lower than guilt beyond reasonable doubt and refers to proof that shows the plaintiff’s case is likelier than not. There is no need for moral certainty, like in criminal cases. 

An impartial jury or judge will determine if there is a greater than 50% chance that the elements of the tort are all present. This is after presenting all the evidence the plaintiffs and defendants have on hand.

There are times when a party does not have to use direct evidence to prove a medical malpractice or greater personal injury case. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may be used. Translated from Latin, it means “the thing speaks for itself.” In simple terms, this refers to situations where the claimant has no way to find evidence, but the injuries sustained would not have happened unless the doctor or medical professional made a negligent or deliberate mistake. The harm sustained speaks for itself. 

Other than tort, one other possible theory for establishing civil liability in a medical malpractice case is the lack of informed consent. Under this framework, the medical professional has to give the patient the following information:

  • A description of the procedure.

  • A description of possible positive outcomes.

  • Lists of the potential risks and dangers associated with the procedure.

  • The chances of the procedure’s success.

  • Any alternatives to the procedure.

The doctor has to disclose all of this information to the patient before carrying out the procedure. It is also vital that the physician give accurate and clear information. Every medical treatment carries inherent risk, and a person whose body is at risk must know what they are getting into.

How Much Can You Sue For Medical Malpractice in Massachusetts?

Damages in a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuit are determined based on the sums that the plaintiff has spent on tangible expenses like medical costs and physical therapy. This is computed using documentary proof like receipts, which lawyers will collate to prove a claim for damages. It is best to retain a lawyer to start determining how much damages one is entitled to.

Types of Damages

There are two chief kinds of damages in the jurisdiction: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are also referred to as specific damages and pertain to the monetary reimbursement for whatever the plaintiff has spent to get better after the medical incident. There is no cap on economic damages; the claimant can ask for as much as one can prove to have spent.

Non-economic damages refer to the intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, that the plaintiff has experienced. This ranges from a reduction in the quality of life to the loss of consortium. This type of damages is capped at $500,000.

There is a third, less common kind of damages known as punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish an erring healthcare professional who displays a wanton or total disregard for the safety of others. It is essentially a penalty in a civil law sense, designed to discourage future behavior and set an example for the rest of society. The courts will award these damages if they make a special finding that there was gross negligence involved.

Negligence System

Massachusetts follows modified comparative negligence rules. The courts will not bar a plaintiff from receiving damages if proven to be contributorily negligent in a medical malpractice claim. But the damages awarded will be reduced proportionally. Also, there will be no award given out if the claimant is at least 51% at fault for the incident. Comparative negligence comes into play when the patient does not follow instructions or fails to make vital disclosures before a procedure.

Methods of Obtaining Compensation

Chief among the methods of obtaining compensation in a medical malpractice case within the state is litigation. But the parties need not go to court to obtain restitution. Arbitration and mediation agreements are valid in Massachusetts and have been honored by the courts. These would prohibit resorting to judicial processes before going through alternative methods of dispute resolution.

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

Medical malpractice law practitioners in Massachusetts often charge fees on a contingency basis. This means that the lawyer will not accept fees upfront but will instead ask for a portion of the award given by the court or the arbitrator. There are caps on how much the lawyer may ask for by way of contingency fees:

  • 40% of the first $150,000 recovered.

  • 33% of the next $150,000.

  • 30% of the next 200,000.

  • 25% of any amount exceeding $500,000.

The claimant also has to pay any filing fees and pay for the cost of serving the adverse party in a lawsuit. These costs are variable and best discussed with a medical malpractice lawyer.

Legal Resources for Medical Malpractice Victims in  Massachusetts

Getting restitution in Massachusetts does not have to be impossible for medical malpractice cases. The following is a list of legal resources and legal professionals that one may go to for assistance when injured by an erring healthcare professional.

National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts Chapter

The National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts Chapter is a progressive group of legal professionals that seeks to effect political and economic changes in the community. It fights for human rights causes and the interests of the marginalized. The group maintains a listing of members for referral who are open to serving those who need legal assistance in addition to serving the causes of individuals such as the homeless and downtrodden. The group may be reached at:

Phone: 617-227-7335
185 Devonshire St., Suite 302
Boston, MA 02110

Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder

The Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder is an online resource that is funded by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. It has a questionnaire-based system that processes a claimant’s issues and then matches the person’s needs with the appropriate legal service providers in the state. The site itself does not refer to lawyers but to groups. The page is also accessible in Spanish.

Massachusetts Free Legal Answers

Massachusetts Free Legal Answers is the state arm of the greater Free Legal Answers online initiative backed by the American Bar Association, the American Arbitration Association, and other players in the telecommunications and insurance industries. It tackles health-related issues in addition to a host of other civil matters, such as divorce, disability, consumer rights, and education. The web page connects the end-user with legal volunteers who receive questions and then take time to research and provide the appropriate answer. It is a completely pro bono service.

Middlesex County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

The Middlesex County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service operates as a nonprofit program that is designed to help potential clients link up with lawyers across a wide variety of legal fields, ranging from personal injury and criminal law to divorce and real estate. Each caller receives three names of attorneys from which to choose after making a legal inquiry. Additional information about the program is available from MCBA executive director Diane Verner at (781) 939-2797. The association itself is at 200 Trade Center, 3rd Floor, Rm 329, Woburn, MA 01801.

Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

The Massachusetts Bar Association runs a lawyer referral service that allows disadvantaged parties to connect with a lawyer 24 hours a day. The matters covered include personal injury law, estate planning, consumer protection, and real estate. It is free to use the lawyer referral service, though the referrals themselves are to fee-charging attorneys, so callers are encouraged to ask their counsel if it is possible to arrange for a contingency fee agreement.

The Massachusetts Bar Association itself has two physical offices:

MBA Boston Office
20 West St.
Boston, MA 02111-1204
(617) 338-0500

MBA Western Mass. Office
1441 Main St. Suite 925
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 788-7878

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