Have you ever wondered what your legal options are as a victim of medical error? When medical errors occur, it’s natural to look for answers and solutions. This is where the crucial notion of the statute of limitations comes into play. The statute of limitations defines a limitation period, or in other words how much time you have, to file a civil lawsuit in the event of medical error. It can vary depending on the jurisdiction and your circumstances.

Our medical liability lawyers will guide you through the complexities of the statute of limitations for medical malpractice. You will learn the basics about how it works, and also how it affects your rights and your ability to take action.

Understanding a prescription period or limitation period

When considering taking legal action for medical malpractice or a medical error, it’s important to understand what the statute of limitations indicates about timing. A prescription period or limitation period indicates how long you have to take legal action, in this case, after suffering a medical error. It acts as a limit set by law to protect patients’ rights and ensure legal stability.

Not knowing the prescription period for medical lawsuits can lead to situations where you lose the ability to take legal action simply because time has run out. By knowing how time limits are calculated and from what moment they are measured, you’ll be better prepared to act effectively if you’re faced with a medical error.

Limitation period for medical errors in Quebec

When it comes to prescription periods in cases of medical error, Quebec jurisdiction sets out specific parameters. The law strictly regulates the period during which you have the right to take legal action.

Article 2925 of the Civil Code of Quebec, a fundamental pillar of the Quebec legal system, details the rules surrounding prescription periods for medical error: “An action to enforce a personal right or movable right is prescribed by three years, if the prescriptive period is not otherwise determined.”

In other words, the victim of bodily and/or psychological injury resulting from a medical error has a 3-year prescription period in which to file a complaint and claim compensation under the Civil Code of Québec.

Factors affecting prescription periods for medical errors

When limitation periods come into play in the context of medical errors, one question becomes crucial: when exactly does the period begin? The answer is closely linked to the type of injury suffered by the patient and the surrounding circumstances. Factors to be considered include the nature of the error, when the error was discovered or should have been discovered, and the specific laws within the jurisdiction. Some cases may also be influenced by ethical and medical considerations, adding a further layer of complexity to the situation.

If medical injury becomes apparent gradually

In situations where medical injury manifests itself gradually, the 3-year limitation period only begins when the injury first becomes perceptible. This is particularly relevant in the case of medical conditions that evolve over time, and that require careful observation to detect early warning signs.

As a general rule, in most incidents of medical malpractice, the limitation period begins at the point at which a reasonably prudent person might suspect fault attributable to a healthcare professional. Note that if relevant information remains concealed or inaccessible, the limitation period does not begin until it is discovered.


Medical misdiagnosis, a special category of medical malpractice, also engages the physician’s liability and may lead to claims for compensation. In such cases, the limitation period follows the same principles, beginning at the point at which the patient’s injury becomes evident.

By keeping these nuances in mind, you will be better able to identify the precise moment when limitation periods start in the context of medical errors, and make informed decisions based on your specific circumstances.

Limitation period for unfit or minor victims of medical error

When an incapacitated person is affected by a medical error, it is up to their mandatary, tutor or curator to file a civil suit within the three-year time limit.

Similarly, if the victim is a minor, it is the guardian who must comply with the legal time limit for making a claim.

Note: If the person is unable to act during the prescription period for medical error, the prescription period does not apply. However, the victim must be able to prove that it was impossible for them to act within the statutory time limits.

Exception to limitation periods for criminal offences

Since 2020, amendments have been made to the Civil Code of Quebec to include article 2926.1, which defines a 10-year prescription period for actions for compensation for bodily injury resulting from acts that may constitute a criminal offence. This period begins when the victim becomes aware that their injury is related to the crime.

In addition, the same article stipulates that actions taken to compensate for damage caused by sexual assault or violence suffered by a spouse, former spouse or during childhood are considered outside of the boundaries of the legal time limit (imprescriptible). There is no time limit to initiate this type of legal action.

Given that the healthcare field is not exempt from these types of offenses, note that if you are considering suing a healthcare professional for acts of sexual abuse or violence, there is no time constraint on filing your claim. Legally, you have an extended window of opportunity to seek redress in the face of such reprehensible behavior.

Do you need help defining your prescription period? Ask MedLégal

While the decision to take legal action following a medical error is worth considering, it’s important to remember that there is a specific limitation period you must respect. If you are considering taking legal action and wish to avoid any risk of refusal due to timing, please contact us now to discuss your situation. Our medical liability service is healthcare system users who consider themselves victims of professional misconduct. Our team of health lawyers will provide personalized legal advice and assistance throughout the claims process.

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