When a terrible injury occurs, whether from a car crash or a work site accident, pinpointing the date of injury can be an easy exercise. Some injuries are not always as clear. When you file a medical malpractice action in Massachusetts, you are bound by the statute of limitations, which requires medical malpractice injury claims to be brought forth within three years of the date of the injury, or the date you should have known about the injury. The latter part of the requirement allows for the delayed discovery of injuries that may not be apparent on the date of the accident or injury-causing event.
In the Appeals Court case of Parr v. Rosenthal (13-P-1150), the court extended existing case law, which now allows the statute of limitations to toll, or pause, when there is ongoing treatment performed on an injury. In Parr, the parents of a small child filed suit against the surgical physician. The child was born with a tumor in his right leg that impeded nerves and blood vessels. When the child was eight, he had surgery to have the lesion removed, but the doctor performing that surgery was unable to remove all of it. The boy continued to see other doctors who were all part of a sarcoma group and was later referred to another to perform a specialized procedure. During this surgery, a burn formed above the tumor site, causing complications during the surgery and immediately after the procedure. The parents of the child were advised it was a “superficial burn” and that the child would be able to heal quickly.
The burn did not heal and caused the boy’s health to become very unstable, despite extended hospital visits, in-home physical therapy, and a visiting nurse providing him care at home. Eventually, the boy’s leg had to be amputated below the knee. The lawsuit was filed within three years of the amputation, but more than three years after the second surgery. At trial, the jury was not provided with an instruction that allowed for the period of continuing care to be considered when looking at whether or not the injury occurred within the three-year statute of limitations. The jury found for the defendant, and the parents suing on behalf of their child appealed.
The appellate court looked at other states’ case law, which allows for the period of continuing care to “stop the clock” on the statute of limitations. The reasoning behind this allowance is to encourage the doctor-patient relationship, rather than have courts interfere with the healing process, and to avoid injured parties running to the courthouse to commence legal proceedings. In its ruling, the court stated that the application of this doctrine would toll the statute of limitations as long as the patient remains in continuous treatment for the injury by the same physician or group, or under the general control of the physician or group. While there was a question in Parr of whether or not the surgical doctor fell within this classification, the court felt there was enough evidence presented that would toll the statute of limitations and allow the suit to move forward. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and the verdict of the jury, and it remanded the case back to the trial court.
The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan look to every available legal recourse to maximize the damages you need and deserve. For a free, confidential consultation today, call 508.822.6600.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Supreme Court Keeps Premises Liability Case Law Favorable for Injured Individuals, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 26, 2015
The Path to Damages after a Massachusetts Car Accident Can be a Complex, Winding One, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 22, 2015