Washington DC Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Hospital in Medical Malpractice Case, Based on Statute of Limitations

309px-Washington_C_D.C._Tidal_Basin_cherry_trees.jpgThe District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court based its decision in Atiba v. Washington Hospital Center, et al on a missed deadline under both DC’s statute of limitations and notice requirements for medical malpractice claims. The issue before the court concerned an alleged conflict between the deadline to file suit under the statute of limitations and the time period in which notice must be given.

The plaintiff, Kwaco Atiba, sought medical treatment from the defendants, Michelle Grant-Ervin, M.D. and Washington Hospital Center, between October 27 and November 2, 2006. Washington DC law requires a plaintiff to give “not less than” ninety days’ notice to a defendant before filing a medical malpractice suit. It also imposes a three-year statute of limitations for most personal injury claims, including medical malpractice. In the event that the required notice is given within the ninety-day period immediately prior to the running of the statute of limitations, the time to file suit is extended ninety days from the date the notice is served. Atiba served notice of the intended suit on the defendants on October 27, 2009, and filed suit on January 26, 2010. The filing date of the lawsuit was the ninety-first day after the date the notice was served.

The hospital moved for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff failed to file within the statute of limitations, and the trial court granted the motion. The trial court ruled that the ninety-first day after service of the required notice was “one day too late.” The plaintiff argued on appeal that the notice requirement and the statute of limitations conflicted, making it impossible to provide “not less than” ninety days’ notice and file suit within the ninety-day extended limitations period. The plaintiff interpreted the notice requirement as only permitting suit after ninety days had passed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed both statutes in turn. It found no leeway in the statute of limitations, which requires commencement of suit within three years. It also found that the provision of the notice requirement extending the limitations period by ninety days was “utterly clear in its operation.” Regarding the notice requirement, the court addressed the “clear day” issue, which asks whether ninety “clear days” must pass before a plaintiff can file suit, or whether filing is permitted on the ninetieth day. The court held that requiring ninety “clear days” in this situation would create an “absurd outcome,” because it would render the ninety-day extension provision meaningless. It cited its own precedent in which it held that a statute or rule should only be construed to require “clear days” if the statute or rule specifically states an intention to do so. The laws in question in this case did not state such an intention, so it affirmed the summary judgment ruling.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in the Washington, DC area recover their just compensation when they have suffered injuries due to the negligent or unlawful conduct of medical professionals, including doctors. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or call (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

“Failure to Warn” Claim Against Pharmaceutical Company Dismissed by Washington DC Judge, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 12, 2012
DC Council Considers Bill Extending Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, April 12, 2012
In D.C., Personal Injury Cases Must be Brought Within Certain Deadlines, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2010
Photo credit: ‘Washington C D.C. Tidal Basin cherry trees’ by USDA, photo by Scott Bauer (United States Department of Agriculture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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