Medical Negligence Claims against a Hospital Time Limits

Geoffrey Simpson-Scott, Partner
Geoffrey Simpson-Scott
Partner, Head of Medical Negligence

If you’re considering making a medical negligence claim against a hospital in England or Wales, it’s important to know there’s a time limit for starting legal proceedings.

The general time limit to pursue a medical negligence claim – referred to as the Limitation Period – is three years. This means that unless Court proceedings are issued within 3 years of you first being aware that you’ve suffered injuries as a result of negligence medical treatment, you’ll most likely not be able to claim compensation.

For free legal advice get in touch with our Medical Negligence Solicitors. We may be able to deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis – ask us for details.

Call us on 08002605010 or request a callback and we will help you.

Hospital Medical Negligence Claims Time Limits

In some clinical or medical negligence cases, a Court may decide to extend a time limit, depending on the circumstances of the case. The most common exceptions are:

Date of Knowledge

In some circumstances, patients may find it difficult to identify the exact date when their injuries occurred and when the 3-year time limit begins. Therefore, in such cases the limitation period will start to run from the “date of knowledge” of the patient.

The date of knowledge is when you first realise that an injury has become significant and that the hospital involved caused or materially contributed to your condition getting worse.

The time limit to begin the legal action against the identified hospital will be 3 years from this date of knowledge.


Children cannot bring a medical negligence claim against a hospital by themselves and will require the assistance of a ‘Litigation Friend’. Commonly, it’s the child’s parent or a close relative who acts as the Litigation Friend and pursues the claim for compensation on behalf of the child.

The 3-year limitation period doesn’t start until the child reaches the age of 18, meaning that he/she will have until their 21st birthday to start legal proceedings. During this period, the child will have the opportunity to bring the claim as an adult if a Litigation Friend hasn’t already done so.

Mental Capacity

In some circumstances, an injured patient may want sue a hospital, but he or she may lack the mental capacity to understand the implications of making a claim.

Where the injured patient lacks mental capacity prior to or from the date they were injured due to the negligent acts or omissions of the hospital, the 3-year time limit will not begin until capacity is regained. It may be the case that the injured patient never regains capacity, in which case the 3-year limitation rule will never start to run and the claim can be brought through the assistance of a Litigation Friend.

If the person injured by medical negligence loses capacity some time after they were injured, then in these circumstances, the 3-year time limit will apply and legal proceedings must be started from the date of the negligence or the date of knowledge.


In some unfortunate cases, the injured patient may die within the 3-year Limitation Period, in which case the 3-year period will be extended to 3 years from either the date of death or date of knowledge of the deceased, whichever is later. This will allow the deceased’s Estate to make a claim for compensation on their behalf.

Additional Options

In some hospital medical negligence cases, an individual seeking to make a claim for compensation may consider the option of pursuing a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 against an NHS Trust. Usually, such individuals will have to start legal proceedings within a year of the potential breach of their human rights.

Alternatively, if you wish to make a complaint against an NHS Trust hospital, you may consult the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). A member of a PALS team can help try to resolve issues informally before taking complaints further to the independent NHS Complaints Advocacy Service. If appointed, an advocate can attend meetings with you and review any information you're given during the complaints process.

Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of an incident or of the matter coming to your attention.

It’s important to understand that the law regarding Limitation Periods is very complicated and each case needs to be considered on its own merits.

Therefore, it’s crucial that potential claimants consult expert legal advice as soon as they become aware that they’ve suffered injury as a result of medical negligence.

For free legal advice call our Medical Negligence Solicitors

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