About a year ago, we shared with you a Massachusetts Court of Appeals decision in a malpractice case in which the issue was whether or not suit had been filed within the three-year statute of limitations set forth under Massachusetts law.
The intermediate appellate court decided that the case was timely filed under the continuing treatment doctrine. Since that time, however, the state’s highest court has reviewed the case and decided otherwise.
Facts of the Case
In the case of Parr v. Rosenthal, the plaintiffs initially commenced their lawsuit on March 9, 2009, asserting that the defendant doctor had committed medical malpractice in connection with a “radio frequency ablation” procedure that he performed on their son’s leg. The jury in the case found that the plaintiffs had known or reasonably should have known that their child had been harmed by the defendant’s conduct at least three years prior to the filing of their complaint, and thus the action was barred by the statute of limitations.
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the continuing treatment doctrine was applicable in the case. The defendant sought leave for further appellate review.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Ruling
The court first noted that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 60D provides both the limitations period and the repose period for medical malpractice claims brought on behalf of minors over the age of six. The plaintiffs herein brought their lawsuit within the seven-year statute of repose, so the key question was whether the claim was filed within the three-year statute of limitations.
The court then determined that the continuing representation exception to the discovery rule in legal malpractice cases justified the adoption of a continuing treatment exception to the discovery rule in medical malpractice claims. While undergoing continuing treatment, the court reasoned, a patient could not realistically be expected to question or assess the doctor’s techniques or services. The court noted that the adoption of the continuing treatment doctrine did not affect the statute of repose applicable to medical malpractice claims, since the statute of repose places an absolute time limit on filing suit.
The court then addressed the defendant’s argument that the continuing treatment exception should terminate once a patient had actual knowledge of a defendant’s negligence, deciding that only a plaintiff’s actual knowledge that his or her treating physician’s negligence had caused him or her appreciable harm would terminate the continuing treatment exception.
In applying the continuing treatment exception to the facts of the underlying case, the court found that the doctrine did not save the plaintiff’s lawsuit because the doctrine did not apply to the plaintiff’s continued treatment by a “treatment team” that once included the defendant. Thus, the court ultimately found in the defendant’s favor, based on the unique facts of the case.
If You or a Loved One Has Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice
Timeliness is very important when it comes to legal matters, especially the filing of a complaint in a medical malpractice or other personal injury case. Failing to comply with this basic procedural requirement can destroy the chances of compensation, despite the merits of the underlying claim. To talk to an experienced Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney about getting started on your case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at (888) 262-6664 and ask for a free, confidential case evaluation. We have offices in both Plymouth and Hyannis.
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