Application of the “Discovery Rule” in Medical Malpractice Cases May Require a Judge or Jury to Determine Exactly When the Statute of Limitations Began to Run

Earlier last month, one state’s supreme court issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that was dismissed by the lower court because that court determined it had been filed after the applicable statute of limitations. The court also held that the “discovery rule” did not apply in wrongful death cases caused by medical malpractice. However, the court hearing the appeal in the case of Moon v. Rhode held that the the discovery rule does apply and that the lower court failed to make a factual finding as to when the statute of limitations began to run. Therefore, it was an error to dismiss the case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a 90-year-old woman who died while under the care of the defendant doctors. After the woman’s death on May 29, 2009, the plaintiffs submitted a request for medical records, had them reviewed by an expert, and was told that there was more that the doctors could have done to treat their mother. During the course of the plaintiffs’ investigation, an MRI was conducted, after which it became apparent that there may have been another doctor who was also partially responsible for their mother’s death. However, this discovery was made after the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit nonetheless.

The defendants argued that the two-year statute of limitations should start from the date of the plaintiffs’ mother’s death. They argued that there was enough evidence present at that time to put the plaintiffs on notice that there could be a potential medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, claimed that the only way they could possibly know about the facts giving rise to the case was after reviewing the MRI. The plaintiffs argued that since they could not have discovered the potential lawsuit until their review of the MRI, the statute of limitations should not have started until they were made aware of the MRI results.

At trial, the case was dismissed because the lower court determined the discovery rule did not apply, stating “even if we give everybody the benefit of the doubt and try to fix a date at which a reasonable person was placed on inquiry as to whether there was malpractice, even that was long gone by the time the complaint was filed.” However, the court never determined at which date the statute of limitations began or gave any reasoning as to why the discovery rule should not apply.

The appellate court ended up agreeing with the plaintiffs. In doing so, the court rejected the lower court’s holding that the discovery rule does not apply to wrongful death cases. The court also explained that there must be a factual finding as to when the statute of limitations began so that the proper calculations can be performed. The appellate court remanded the case back down to the lower court to make these findings.

Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. As the above case illustrates, timing is very important in these cases, and too long a delay may result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case. The skilled personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience representing injured clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and we would be happy to speak with you about your case. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Continuing Course of Treatment Doctrine May Extend Statute of Limitations in Some Maryland and Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Cases, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 20, 2016

Court Determines Homeowner’s Insurance Policy Covered Dog-Walking Injury, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 6, 2016

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