A medical malpractice case in Washington, D.C. generally must be filed within three years of the accrual of the cause of action. Under D.C. law, the cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, not when the injury occurs but when the plaintiff knows of the injury or should know of the injury through the exercise of due diligence. A recent decision from a state appeals court illustrates the potential complexities involved in determining when a plaintiff knew or should have known of an injury.
In that case, when the plaintiffs’ minor son was born in September 2009, the parents were told that the baby suffered from an infection, and he remained in the hospital for 10 days after his birth. When the baby was discharged, the mother was told that the baby was healthy and normal. However, she soon began noticing that he was not meeting certain developmental milestones. In April 2010, a CT scan showed that the baby had suffered a fractured skull injury. Almost two years afterward, the baby was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. The mother was told that this type of cerebral palsy is usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain during labor and delivery. The parents filed the complaint in November 2013, claiming that the son’s neurological injury was caused by improper care by the hospital and medical professionals at the hospital.
The defendants claimed that the case was barred by the statute of limitations. Under applicable state law, the claim had to be filed within two years of the time when the incident was discovered or should have been discovered with due diligence. The parents argued that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until November 2012, when the parents were informed that the spastic cerebral palsy might have been related to the delivery. The defendants argued that the statute of limitations began to run in May 2010, when the family should have discovered that medical negligence had occurred. The family met with an attorney at the time, who requested the baby’s medical records. A trial court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case, and the parents appealed.