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State Court Applies “Discovery Rule” to Reverse Dismissal of Wrongful Death Claim

Posted in Firm News

An Illinois court recently published an opinion reversing a lower appellate court’s ruling in favor of the defendant in a medical malpractice and wrongful death claim. The plaintiff’s claim had been dismissed by the district court because it was filed after the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims appeared to have run. The state high court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling that the claim was time-barred and applied what is known as the “discovery rule” to the plaintiff’s claim, ultimately extending the statute of limitations to permit the plaintiff’s claims to be heard. Since the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case was reversed, he may receive compensation through a settlement or trial on his claim that the defendant’s negligence resulted in his mother’s death.

The Plaintiff’s Mother Died Nine Days after Having a Procedure Performed by the Defendants

The plaintiff in the case of Moon v. Theis is the son of a woman who died of apparent respiratory depression while under the care of the defendants on May 29, 2009. The plaintiff’s mother was a patient of the defendant whose condition worsened after having a perineal proctectomy performed by the defendant earlier in the month. The plaintiff filed the first medical malpractice complaint against the defendant on May 10, 2011, which alleged the defendant failed to properly treat his mother’s respiratory distress. In February 2013, during proceedings related to that lawsuit, the plaintiff obtained a CT scan of his mother from before her death and discovered other acts of alleged negligence by the defendant that appeared to contribute to her death. In March 2013, the plaintiff filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit against the defendants, alleging that the defendant’s previously undiscovered negligence was a cause of his mother’s death and seeking compensation on her behalf.

The District Court and State Court of Appeals Reject the Plaintiff’s Claim as Time-Barred

Since the plaintiff’s second lawsuit was filed over two years after the date of his mother’s death, the defendants argued that it was barred by the state’s two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. The plaintiff responded that he was unable to discover the defendant’s specific negligent acts until he received the CT scan as part of the first lawsuit, and he filed the second claim shortly after the discovery. The district court rejected the plaintiff’s reasoning and strictly enforced the two-year statute of limitations against the plaintiff’s claim. On an appeal to the Illinois Court of Appeals, the district court’s ruling was affirmed, since the appellate court declined to extend the statute of limitations to allow the plaintiff time to reasonably discover the negligence that allegedly resulted in his mother’s death.

The State Supreme Court Reverses the Lower Courts and Applies the Discovery Rule in the Interest of Justice

The plaintiff appealed the state court of appeals’ ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court and ultimately convinced that court that the state’s two-year statute of limitations should not start to run until the plaintiff actually discovered (or reasonably should have) the act of negligence that gave rise to the claim. Applying what is generally known as “the discovery rule,” the state high court found that the law should reasonably protect the plaintiff’s right to recover damages for the defendant’s negligence, and the plaintiff otherwise would be unable to obtain justice for his mother’s death. The state high court ruled explicitly that the discovery rule applies in Illinois medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits, and it sent the plaintiff’s claim back to the district court to proceed toward a trial.

The Statute of Limitations and Application of the Discovery Rule in New Mexico Medical Malpractice Claims

The statute of limitations for New Mexico medical malpractice claims gives plaintiffs three years from the date of the alleged malpractice to file a claim, unless the discovery rule applies. Under New Mexico’s Medical Malpractice Act, medical providers may be protected from the discovery rule if they meet certain requirements. Claims against these “qualified healthcare providers” must be filed within three years from the date of the malpractice, regardless of when the plaintiff discovers the defendant’s negligence. Plaintiffs who fail to make a claim within three years of an alleged act of malpractice may be entitled to compensation if they are able to prove that the defendant is not a qualified healthcare provider. Plaintiffs who seek the representation of a skilled New Mexico medical malpractice attorney may improve their chances of applying the discovery rule to protect their right to receive compensation for a claim filed over three years after an alleged act of malpractice.

Are You a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice or negligence, you may be entitled to compensation from the medical professionals who administered the care. Doctors and insurance companies may try to prevent you from discovering acts of malpractice to prevent being held responsible for their negligence, but the experienced New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys at the Fine Law Firm can protect your legal rights and assist you in seeking the compensation that you deserve. Even if you think your rights may have already expired, we may be able to help. Call the New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys at the Fine Law Firm at (585) 989-3463, or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation today.

More Blog Posts:

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State Supreme Court Awards Nearly $4 Million Verdict in Liposuction Lawsuit, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 21, 2016.