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A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University showed that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the report, at least 250,000 people die due to medical errors each year in the country. 

In Minnesota, the Department of Health reported a total of 572 adverse health events in 2022 (up from 508 in 2021). There were 178 serious injuries (31%) and 21 deaths (3%) at hospitals. The Department also reported that falls, product/device malfunctions, and medication errors have been the most common causes of patients’ injuries. Officials cited new challenges and increased care associated with the pandemic, such as prolonged hospital stays and workforce shortages, as contributing factors to the rise in the number of adverse health events in Minnesota. 

Medical errors are common in the healthcare industry in Minnesota. This serious issue affects many people and can have devastating consequences for patients and their loved ones. When physicians or other healthcare providers commit mistakes, it may cause emotional distress, financial hardship, lifelong health problems, and even death. 

If a person has suffered from an illness or injury due to medical malpractice, they might think of filing a claim. This article provides a brief overview of the process of filing a medical malpractice claim in Minnesota, including the laws, the time limits, and the state rules on shared fault. 

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice in Minnesota?

If a person or their loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice, they may wonder whether their claim has the requisite merit to be filed in court. This section guides people through the laws if they are pursuing a medical malpractice claim in Minnesota. 

Minn. Stat. §  541.076(b) defines medical malpractice as an action by a patient or former patient against a healthcare provider due to malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure. 

Scenarios that may constitute medical malpractice in Minnesota include: 

  • Anesthesia or emergency room error.

  • Birth injury.

  • Delayed diagnosis.

  • Failure to adequately follow up with the patient. 

  • Failure to diagnose.

  • Failure to provide adequate patient care.

  • Lack of informed consent to a medical procedure.

  • Misdiagnosis.

  • Medication, prescription, or surgical mistake.

A plaintiff must provide a preponderance of evidence to support their claim. Furthermore, to prevent frivolous claims against a physician, they must prepare two affidavits. Under Minn. Stat. Ann. § 145.682, they are required to file an Affidavit of Expert Review with their initial complaint. If such an affidavit cannot be obtained before starting the action, they must file it within 90 days after the summons and complaint have been served to the defendant. The affidavit states the facts that have been reviewed by their attorney with a qualified medical expert. It must also state that, in the expert’s opinion, the defendant did not meet the applicable standard of care, which caused the plaintiff’s injury. 

The plaintiff must also serve an Identification of Expert upon the defendant within 180 days of the discovery period. This affidavit identifies each medical expert they are planning to use as a witness at trial, states the substance of the expert’s testimony, and summarizes the basis of each opinion. 

If the plaintiff fails to prepare and file these two affidavits, their medical malpractice lawsuit may be dismissed, per Minn. Stat. § 145.682, subd. 6.

Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, a victim may bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare provider for an injury they suffered due to negligence. Those who can be held responsible are included in the definition of healthcare provider under Minn. Stat. §  541.076(a). According to the law, a healthcare provider means a: 

  • Physician.

  • Dentist.

  • Occupational therapist.

  • Surgeon.

  • Other healthcare professionals.

The term “healthcare provider” also includes hospitals and treatment facilities. In the Popovich v. Allina Health Sys case, the Minnesota Supreme Court departed from its previous application of the doctrine of apparent authority. It held that a hospital may be held liable for the negligence of an independent contractor physician. The doctrine of apparent authority states that a business or an individual may be liable for the negligence of independent contractors. In this case, the plaintiff satisfied the two-factor test: 

  • That the hospital held itself out as a provider of emergency room care.

  • That the patient relied on the hospital rather than a specific doctor to select the personnel to provide medical services. 


According to Minn. Stat. Ann. § 3.736, Minnesota provides compensation for injury or death caused by state employees acting within the scope of their employment. However, the law provides immunity to the state and its employees if the victim was treated in a state hospital or corrections facility where it could be proven that reasonable care was given. Additionally, it provides that the state will not pay punitive damages and places a limit on compensatory damages at $500,000 for claims arising on or after July 1, 2009.  

The state also enforces Minn. Stat. Ann. § 604A.01, or the Good Samaritan Law. A person who, without compensation or expectation of compensation, renders care, advice, or assistance at the scene of an emergency or during transit to a medical care provider is not liable for civil damages for acts or omissions they committed. However, they may be liable if they acted in a willful, wanton, or reckless manner. 

Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Requirements

Minnesota does not require physicians to have medical malpractice insurance. However, healthcare facilities may require physicians with visiting privileges to carry insurance before they are allowed to practice to protect their assets and reputation in case of medical malpractice lawsuits. 

Healthcare providers in Minnesota may have a professional liability policy with a minimum limit of $1,000,000 per occurrence or $3,000,000 aggregate, except for practitioner types, such as state- and/or country-run clinics and Public Health Services. 

State- and/or country-run clinics are protected under Minn. Stat. Ann. § 3.736, or the Tort Claims Act, which limits liability to $500,000 per claim for those arising on or after July 1, 2009. Public Health Service refers to federally supported health centers, which are deemed employees of the federal government and are protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act. There are no liability limits specified for the Public Health Service. 

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

Minnesota laws provide a specified time period in which a medical malpractice victim may bring a claim. If they fail to file a claim within the timeframe, they may not be able to recover damages anymore. 

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.076(b) states that a plaintiff must file an action for medical malpractice in Minnesota within four years from the date the cause of action accrued, i.e., the date the clock starts ticking on the four-year period. The statute does not define when such accrual occurs. In some states, the courts use two approaches to determine it: occurrence and discovery rules. 

According to the occurrence rule, the statute of limitations begins with the performance of the negligent or wrongful act. 

Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations begins when the injury has been or should have been discovered. However, the plaintiff may not bring an action for medical malpractice more than four years from the date the incident took place, regardless of when they discovered the injury. 

Does Minnesota adopt the discovery and occurrence rules?

In the case of MacRae v. Group Health Plan, Inc., the Supreme Court in Minnesota rejected these two approaches and provided a middle ground referred to as the damage rule. According to this rule, the statute of limitations begins to run when compensable damage or injury actually occurs as a result of a negligent or wrongful act. To determine when a cause of action accrues, the court may also look at the unique circumstances of a particular case. 

Under limited circumstances, the four-year time limit may be suspended. According to Minn. Stat. § 541.15, the exemptions to the statute of limitations are when: 

  • The plaintiff is younger than 18 years of age.

  • The plaintiff has been declared legally insane. 

  • The plaintiff is an alien and a citizen of a country at war with the U.S.

  • The beginning of the action is delayed because of an injunction or statutory prohibition.

The statute of limitations may begin to run until the grounds of disability have been removed, such as when a plaintiff reaches the age of 18. However, the suspension may not be extended for more than seven years or for more than one year after the disability ceases. This means that a child claiming an injury by a healthcare provider in Minnesota must bring a medical malpractice lawsuit within seven years or by the age of 19, whichever comes first. 

According to Minn. Stat. § 541.13, if the defendant healthcare provider is out of state or cannot be found even after a diligent search, the four-year time limit may also be suspended. The statute of limitations begins after the defendant returns to Minnesota. 

A different time limit applies to claims when medical malpractice in Minnesota causes death. Under Minn. Stat. § 573.02, subd. 1, a trustee must bring an action within three years of the victim’s death but not more than four years from the cause of action. In other words, the plaintiff must meet the deadline requirements for filing both medical malpractice and wrongful death claims. 

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

As defined previously, medical malpractice in Minnesota entails an error, mistake, or failure to cure. However, the fact that a physician made an error or mistake or that a medical procedure did not provide the desired outcome does not automatically constitute medical malpractice. Medical negligence only equates to malpractice if the physician or healthcare professionals’ action or failure to act causes a patient’s injury or wrongful death. 

Minnesota civil courts may grant a plaintiff compensation for medical malpractice if they can prove it using these four elements: 

  • The doctor or healthcare provider owed a professional duty of care at the time of the incident. 

  • The doctor or healthcare provider breached that medical standard of care through action or inaction. 

  • The breach of duty directly caused the illness or injury. 

  • The plaintiff suffered compensable damages, such as medical bills, due to the malpractice. 

Minnesota currently does not have any form of “I’m sorry” law or a statute allowing an apology by healthcare providers to be used in court as evidence of negligence. In addition, payment made to the plaintiff does not equate to an admission of liability by the defendant, as per Minn. Stat. § 604.01, subd. 2

The state allows recovery of damages in medical malpractice actions based on the loss of chance doctrine. In the case of Dickhoff v. Green, a cancer patient’s parents claimed that the doctor’s negligence in failing to timely diagnose their daughter’s disease decreased her chances of survival. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the law permits a plaintiff to obtain damages when a physician’s negligence diminishes a patient’s chance of survival or recovery. 

Minn. Stat. § 144.651, or the Health Care Bill of Rights, requires health professionals to disclose information about medical treatments to the patient. Minnesota follows the doctrine of informed consent, which allows patients to have absolute control over the medical procedures or healthcare they receive. 

This doctrine consists of two parts: informed decision and agreement. Firstly, the healthcare provider must explain the alternatives, benefits, and risks of a medical procedure before the treatment and before the patient agrees to have it performed. Secondly, the patient must agree before the medical procedure is performed. If a healthcare provider fails to inform the patient, it may constitute medical negligence. 

The consent must be given when the patient has the capacity to do so or is in the right state of mind, such as before anesthesia is rendered. An exception is when a patient is unable to consent due to an emergency, such as during a car accident. This is referred to as implied consent when there is a threat of imminent and irreversible damage to a person’s life or limb. 

According to Minn. Rules of Evidence Rule 702, a plaintiff may use an expert witness to testify in medical malpractice cases in Minnesota. The witness may provide an opinion on whether a medical professional breached their duty of care, causing injury to the patient. Minnesota does not require them to be state-licensed. 

How Much Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Minnesota?

Minnesota currently does not place a limit on damages that may be awarded to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. The state gives its courts discretion over how damages are to be paid. 

Types of Damages

A plaintiff in a medical malpractice case may be awarded compensatory damages, which are split into two categories: economic and non-economic. 

Economic damages reimburse plaintiffs for their out-of-pocket expenses, such as: 

  • Hospital bills.

  • Income loss due to their inability to work.

  • Medical expenses.

  • Nursing and physical therapy costs.

  • Prescription fees.

  • Rehabilitation costs.

Non-economic damages compensate plaintiffs for intangible losses, like: 

  • Disability or disfigurement. 

  • Emotional distress.

  • Loss of consortium.

  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

  • Pain and suffering.

They may also be awarded punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant for their misconduct rather than provide compensation. To be granted punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove, using clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant’s acts showed deliberate disregard for others’ rights or safety. Acts that constitute a deliberate disregard for others’ rights or safety include: 

  • Knowingly or intentionally disregarding the facts that create an injury to others.

  • Consciously or intentionally disregarding the probability of injury.

  • Acting indifferently to the probability of injury. 

A plaintiff seeking punitive damages may not request them in their original complaint. Instead, they may move to amend the complaint and accompany it with one or more affidavits showing the factual basis for the claims, as per Minn. Stat. § 549.191

Negligence System

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 604.01(1) allows the defense of modified comparative negligence to be used. This enables the court in Minnesota to assign a percentage of fault to each party in a lawsuit and reduce the damage award in proportion to their fault. For example, if a plaintiff was 25% at fault for their injury and the physician was 75% at fault, they may still recover damages from the doctor. However, the amount will be reduced by 25%. 

Furthermore, Minnesota follows the 51% rule, which allows a plaintiff to recover damages if the court determines that their percentage of fault is 50% or less. In other words, the plaintiff must not have contributed to their injury more than the healthcare provider they are suing. 

If there are multiple defendants in a medical malpractice case in Minnesota, each is generally liable for damages in proportion to their percentage of fault. For example, if a defendant bore 30% of the fault, they will pay 30% of the damages. However, according to Minn. Stat. § 604.02, if their fault is greater than 50%, they will be jointly and severally liable for the whole award, even if others were partially at fault. 

Methods of Obtaining Compensation

The process of obtaining medical malpractice damages entails: 

  • Filing an insurance claim with the healthcare provider’s insurance company.

  • Filing a lawsuit if the insurance carrier refuses to offer a fair settlement.

  • Undergoing pre-trial proceedings, such as settlement negotiation, arbitration, or mediation. 

  • Taking the case to trial. 

  • Filing a post-trial motion and appeal. 

Minnesota laws do not require plaintiffs to undergo mandatory pre-trial proceedings, such as arbitration, mediation, submission to a screening panel, or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. 

However, according to Minn. Stat. § 484.73, when a judge orders a case for trial, the court may require parties to discuss the possibility of resolving issues in the case. This discussion can take the form of arbitration, mediation, a summary jury trial, or other alternative dispute resolution methods. All parties must agree unanimously before the case proceeds. 

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

Minn. Stat. § 548.251, subd. 4 provides how attorney fees are calculated. If the plaintiff is paying a percentage fee, it must be based on the damages reduced by amounts received from sources, such as workers’ compensation and disability insurance. 

Legal Resources for Medical Malpractice Victims in Minnesota

Justice North Civil Legal Aid

Justice North Civil Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization providing advice and representation to people facing civil legal matters, regardless of their financial circumstances. Its Private Attorney Involvement Program offers pro bono legal services to community members in need. Its team of attorneys provides legal advice by phone or in person and conducts virtual clinics. To seek legal help, call 877-696-6549 or apply online. 

Central Minnesota Legal Services Volunteer Attorney Program

The Central Minnesota Legal Services Volunteer Attorney Program provides brief legal advice and direct representation to low-income individuals and families in the North Star State. Its volunteer lawyers also help inform people on the next steps of the legal process and assist with drafting pleadings. To obtain legal assistance, clients may call 612-332-8151 or apply through the online intake system.

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