Court Excuses Plaintiff’s Untimely Filing Based on Dentist Fraudulently Concealing Potential Malpractice

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that raised an issue that is very important for Maryland medical malpractice plaintiffs to understand. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether a plaintiff’s late-filed medical malpractice case should be permitted to proceed despite its untimeliness because the defendant acted to cover up his potential liability.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s visit to another doctor who worked with the defendant to effectuate the defendant’s care plan did not provide the plaintiff with actual notice of the defendant’s malpractice. Thus, the plaintiff’s lawsuit was timely.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, who was suffering from serious dental issues, was a patient of the defendant dentist. The defendant created a care plan and, in March 2006, referred the plaintiff to a specialist who was to perform certain procedures, including placing dental implants.

In November 2006, the specialist placed the implants. However, the plaintiff immediately reported to the defendant that they did not feel right. The defendant consulted with another dentist, who told the defendant that the implants were not properly placed and would cause the plaintiff major problems.

At this point, the implants were still new enough that they could be removed. However, despite the defendant’s knowledge that something was wrong with the implants, he decided not to inform the plaintiff and tried to work with the existing implants. In February 2007, the plaintiff complained to the defendant that she could not chew without biting her tongue. The defendant made several more adjustments before informing the plaintiff that the reconstruction process was taking too long. The plaintiff also saw the specialist again, complaining of the problems with her teeth.

In early 2008, the defendant referred the plaintiff to another dentist, who informed the plaintiff that she would need several costly and painful reconstructive surgeries to undo the damage caused by the defendant’s course of treatment. In 2010, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. The state where this occurred has a two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s case was filed after the two-year statute of limitations, and the trial court agreed. The plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court initially agreed that the defendant engaged in fraud when concealing his potential negligence. Thus, the statute of limitations only began to run when the plaintiff had actual notice of her claim.

The lower court had decided that the plaintiff had notice of the defendant’s potential malpractice when she was referred back to the specialist in early 2007. However, the appellate court disagreed, explaining that since the specialist was a part of the original care team, the plaintiff can only be said to have had notice if the specialist provided her with actual notice of the defendant’s malpractice. Here, the court noted, that did not occur. Instead, the specialist merely reported the plaintiff’s complaints back to the defendant, and there was no evidence that the specialist told the plaintiff that the defendant had engaged in medical malpractice.

The court explained that the purpose of extending a statute of limitations based on the defendant’s fraud is to allow for plaintiffs to bring cases in which the defendant’s negligence has been unfairly concealed. Here, the court held that the plaintiff was not put on notice by visiting the specialist who had assisted in carrying out the defendant’s original plan, and it wasn’t until the plaintiff went to an independent dentist that she became aware of her claim.

Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of what you believe to be medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice lawsuit. At the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers, we represent those who have been subject to all types of inadequate medical care. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case.

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