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Maryland Court of Special Appeals Applies the Common Law Discovery Rule to Revive Plaintiff’s Time-Barred Medical Malpractice Suit
Deborah A. Sigethy, et al. v. Bryan Klepper, et al.
Deborah Sigethy (“Plaintiff”) brought a medical malpractice suit against a Defendant doctor alleging negligence and failure to obtain informed consent after Defendant performed a hip-replacement surgery on the Plaintiff in 2010. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based upon the court’s conclusion that Plaintiff was on inquiry notice of her claim no later than December 6, 2010, which meant the claim was barred by the applicable three year statute of limitations. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reversed the circuit court’s judgment.
On April 28, 2010, Defendant performed surgery on Plaintiff’s right hip. Her recovery from this surgery did not go well as she experienced “significantly worse” pain after the procedure. After consulting Defendant a few times, Plaintiff decided to seek a second opinion and saw Dr. Randy Davis on December 6, 2010. Dr. Davis recommended that Plaintiff have a revision surgery at this appointment.
Plaintiff filed suit on January 2, 2014, which was longer than three years after her initial consultation with Dr. Davis. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on statute of limitations grounds, arguing that it was indisputable that Ms. Sigethy was on inquiry notice of her claim against Defendant no later than the date of her meeting with Dr. Davis on December 6, 2010, at which time Dr. Davis told her she needed to have revision surgery. Defendant argued that, after being shown the x-rays on December 6, 2010, and being told to stop work, any reasonable person would have commenced investigation of a legal claim against Defendant, and that the three-year statute of limitations started running at that point.
After the circuit court ruled in Defendant’s favor, Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the court noted that in the field of medicine, an unsuccessful result alone does not necessarily establish negligence on the part of the health care provider. To establish a claim of medical “injury,” a plaintiff must prove not only a bad result, but also a breach of the standard of care that was a proximate cause of the bad result.
The statute of limitations for professional liability claims against health care providers is codified in CJP § 5–109(a), which provides: “An action for damages for an injury arising out of the rendering of or the failure to render professional services by a health care provider ... shall be filed within the earlier of: (1) Five years of the time the injury was committed; or (2) Three years of the date the injury was discovered.”
In medical malpractice cases, a cause of action accrues when the wrong is discovered or when with due diligence it should have been discovered. “It is an ordinary question for the jury or the ultimate fact finder as to whether the plaintiff failed to discover the cause of action because he failed to exercise due diligence or whether he was unable to discover it because the defendant concealed the wrong.” Dashiell v. Meeks, 396 Md. 149, 168-69 (2006).
Defendant argued that the date by which Plaintiff was on notice that something was wrong with her hip that warranted further investigation of a potential claim for medical malpractice was on December 6, 2010, when she reviewed her x-rays with Dr. Davis. The Plaintiff argued that her three-year deadline for filing a claim against Defendant should be measured from January 7, 2011, because that is the date on which she opened a letter from her insurance company advising that there had been a recall of certain DePuy prosthetic hip components, and it was likely that she had received one of the recalled components when Defendant performed her right hip replacement in April 2010.
The Court of Special Appeals disagreed with Defendant and stated that Dr. Davis did not indicate on December 6 that malpractice was a likely cause of her problem. Even though Plaintiff was told by Dr. Davis that the displacement of the prosthetic required revision surgery, a need for the revision surgery was one of the known risks that the original surgeon had warned of. The court also stated that a reasonable person in the position of the Plaintiff could have reasonably inferred from Dr. Davis’ explanation that the displacement of the prosthetic and the pain were caused by bony growth that was produced by Plaintiff’s body, and were not the fault of the Defendant. The court held that Plaintiff did not suspect malpractice on the part of Defendant until after she read the recall notice from DePuy. For these reason of material factual dispute, summary judgment was not properly granted. There was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding when Plaintiff was on inquiry notice of a malpractice claim against the Defendant, so the intermediate appellate court reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case.
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