For most civil actions, the state imposes a statute of limitations that limits the time during which an aggrieved party may file a lawsuit seeking redress for an alleged act of wrongdoing. For malpractice cases in Massachusetts, the statute of limitations is generally three years from the date that the cause of action accrued.
Although this may seem straightforward, it is not always as easy as it may appear at first glance. This is because the date “that the cause of action accrued” is subject to much interpretation. Accordingly, even judges don’t always agree on the exact date that the statute runs. In the recent Massachusetts Court of Appeals case of Parr v. Rosenthal, a case was dismissed as untimely by the trial court, but it was reversed and remanded after review by the appeals court.
Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs were the parents of a minor child whose leg was burned and eventually had to be amputated due to complications that arose during a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) procedure performed by the defendant doctor in 2005. The case proceeded to a jury trial in the trial court, and the jury found that the plaintiffs had failed to meet the statute of limitations because they had not filed their lawsuit within three years of the time that they knew or reasonably should have known that their son had been the victim of medical malpractice by the defendant.
The plaintiffs sought a new trial on the grounds that the trial judge had erred in denying their request to instruct the jury concerning the continuing treatment doctrine as a mechanism for tolling the statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The Appellate Court Decision
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the continuing treatment doctrine was applicable in Massachusetts and was fairly raised by the facts as they were presented at the underlying medical malpractice trial.
According to the court on appeal, the Massachusetts statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions should be tolled only during the time that a plaintiff receives “continuing treatment for the same injury or illness allegedly caused by the original treating physician.” This rule applies even if a plaintiff knew of the injury or should have reasonably have known of it. The court added that the issue of whether subsequent care by other doctors is to be imputed to the original doctor who allegedly committed the act of malpractice is a jury question and that the statute of repose may act to bar a case that would otherwise survive a statute of limitations challenge.
To Get Help with a Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Case
As this case demonstrates, it is important to be mindful of the requisite filing deadlines in not only medical malpractice actions but also any negligence lawsuit. To speak to an experienced Cape Cod medical malpractice lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, and ask for a free initial consultation on your case. The first appointment is free, and we accept many cases on a contingency fee basis so that you do not have to pay legal fees up front. Our offices are located in Plymouth and Hyannis, and we serve all of Massachusetts.
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