The timing of when a civil action is filed can determine whether or not the lawsuit is heard at all in the civil justice system. Massachusetts General Laws dictate the period in which a Massachusetts medical malpractice action must be filed following an accident or injury. When the injury involves medical malpractice among a series of appointments, doctors, and care over a period of time, it can become very difficult to pinpoint whether the date an injury occurred was within the prescribed three-year period. Prior case law established it is not necessary the plaintiff knows the defendant was actually responsible for the injury, only that the medical care given by the defendant may have caused the injury.
This is seen in a recent Appeals Court decision (17-P-722), in which an injured patient and her husband were prevented from pursuing their negligence and loss of consortium claims against the treating physician and hospital providing medical care following a laparoscopic sigmoid colectomy. This patient suffered from medical abdominal issues prior to this procedure, and she sought treatment in 2012 after she was diagnosed with diverticulitis. Following the colectomy, her recovery was challenged by difficulties with the abdominal fluid drainage and a slow return to gastrointestinal function. She was discharged but returned a week later after experiencing chills, cramps, and emesis. The physician re-examined her and told her he believed she had a small bowel obstruction due to internal organ adhesions.
Eventually, she was transferred to a different hospital for care by a different surgeon. Tests taken at this location showed urine was leaking from her left ureter into her pelvis, which was likely caused by the prior procedure that severed her ureter. A special tube was required to drain urine from her left kidney. In the following month, she was seen again at the second hospital with infections from the tube. She had surgery the following March to repair the severed ureter into the bladder, and this operation confirmed the ureter had been severed during the initial surgery.