Medical Malpractice and the Discovery Rule

The statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is one year. In other words, you will lose your right to seek compensation for medical malpractice if you fail to file your claim within the one-year period. While this is simple enough on its face, the right to recover on a medical malpractice claim often turns on precisely when that one-year statute begins to run. A recent case out of Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals explains how Ohio courts determine this important date.

In Kelly v. Aultman Physician Center, Jaquayla Kelly sued a physician group for medical malpractice claiming that she suffered complications arising from the physicians’ negligent treatment. The physicians had placed a Mirena intrauterine device (“IUD”) in Kelly’s uterus for contraceptive purposes in June of 2008. Over the next 18 months, Kelly intermittently returned to the physicians complaining of abdominal pain. Eventually, in April of 2010, it was discovered that the IUD had pierced Kelly’s uterine cavity. As a result, Kelly underwent a total abdominal hysterectomy, removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes, bilateral gutter abscess removal, appendectomy, and removal of multiple pelvic abscesses. Kelly then developed septic shock and multi-organ system failures, ultimately requiring her to spend four days on a ventilator in the intensive care unit and another two weeks in the hospital before she recovered.
In September of 2012, Kelly saw a legal advertisement on television advising viewers of complications related to the use of the Mirena IUD device. Kelly sought legal advice based on the commercial and her lawyers were able to obtain medical records documenting the alleged malpractice in early 2013. Kelly then filed her medical malpractice claim in March of 2013.

The trial court dismissed Kelly’s medical malpractice claim, finding that she filed the claim beyond the one-year statute of limitations period under R.C. 2305.113. On appeal, Kelly argued that the one-year statute of limitations did not begin to run until she acquired medical records containing evidence of the malpractice in early 2013. Thus, she claimed that the statute had not elapsed when she filed the claim in March of 2013.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals noted that the one-year period commences to run (a) when the patient discovers, or should have discovered, the injury, or (b) when the physician-patient relationship for that condition terminates, whichever occurs later. The appellate court further noted that the Ohio Supreme Court previously held that under the discovery rule, a “cognizable event” triggers the running of the statutory time. A “cognizable event” is something that should alert a reasonable patient that an improper medical procedure, treatment or diagnosis has taken place. Constructive knowledge of facts, rather than actual knowledge of their significance, is enough to start the statute running. The Fifth District explained that “the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice case will be triggered even if a potential plaintiff has not uncovered all relevant facts to constitute her cause of action to trigger the running of the statute of limitations. Thus, the occurrence of a cognizable event makes it incumbent upon that individual to investigate his or her case completely.”

In applying this analysis to Kelly’s case, the court determined that the discovery of the complications caused by the IUD and the resulting major surgery in April of 2010 was the cognizable event that triggered the statute of limitations. According to the court, the events in April 2010, “should have given Kelly reason to believe or at least investigate her claim that malpractice may have been committed in the placement of the IUD or during her treatment of her complaints with the IUD.” Because Kelly filed her medical malpractice claim in 2013 (after the one-year statute expired in April 2011) the Fifth District affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Kelly’s medical malpractice claim.

This case highlights the grave consequences that may befall a patient who delays pursuing a medical malpractice claim. A person injured by a physician’s malpractice must commence his or her lawsuit within one year of the date that person discovered, or should have discovered reason to believe that malpractice may have been committed. If you believe you may have suffered an injury as a result of medical malpractice it is imperative that you seek representation immediately. The process of obtaining medical records and an independent review of the records takes time, and generally must be done before a lawsuit can be commenced. Our litigation team can obtain the necessary information to evaluate your case, and will diligently seek compensation from negligent parties. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have reason to believe you have suffered from medical malpractice.