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Torts: Medical Malpractice—Tolling Statute of Limitations

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jul 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

Statuteoflimitations
Kopacz v. Banner Health, __Ariz. Adv. Rep. __, 1 CA-CV 17-0493 (App. Div. I, July 5, 2018) (J. Johnsen)
 
MEDICAL MALPRACTICE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS NOT TOLLED BY PHYSICAL INFIRMITY/MUST SHOW ABSENCE OF SOUND MIND
 
Plaintiff suffered many complications following a catherization procedure and was in rehabilitation for a period of time following the surgery. She eventually filed suit on January 21, 2016 for alleged negligence during her December 21-23, 2013 hospitalization.  The trial court granted the defendant summary judgment based upon the running of the statute of limitations.  The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.
 
A.R.S. § 12-542(1) provides a two year statute of limitations for filing medical negligence claims.  The date such a claim accrues is subject to the "discovery rule." Under that rule, a claim accrues when the plaintiff has reason to connect her injury with a "causative agent" such that "a reasonable person would be on notice to investigate whether the injury might result from fault."
 
When the "fact of injury is known but the possibility of negligence is difficult to discern," the cause of action may not accrue on the date the plaintiff learns of her injury. In such cases, a patient's knowledge of her injury alone may not give adequate notice of who caused it. In such a case, it is usually a question of fact as to when the statute of limitations accrued.
 
However, when a bad result occurs immediately putting a plaintiff on notice that malpractice may have occurred, the court may grant summary judgment on the statute of limitations as a matter of law. Such was the case here. Plaintiff knew, or reasonably should have known within four days of the catheterization that she had suffered a bad outcome and might have a medical negligence claim.
 
Plaintiff, however, argued the statute of limitations was tolled by submitting her and her daughter's affidavit stating she was “too ill to consider filing a medical negligence claim” for over a month following the procedure. 
 
 Under Arizona law, a statute of limitations is tolled if a would-be plaintiff is of "unsound mind" when the cause of action accrues. A.R.S. § 12-502 (2018). “Hard evidence of the lack of mental capacity to understand the potential for a medical malpractice claim is required to invoke the tolling statute. Mere physical illness or the claimed “inability to think” about the existence of such a claim, does not constitute hard evidence of an unsound mind,  and thus does not meet this burden.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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