Potential precedent for medical malpractice

In a landmark decision that may eventually affect families living in North Carolina, the Washington Supreme Court has decreed that the statute of limitations does not apply to medical malpractice cases that involve minors. The decision comes from a medical malpractice case involving a man dating back to his initial diagnosis when he was 9 years old. When he was a child, the plaintiff was taken to a physician at Columbia Basin Imaging for weakness in the legs, dizziness, double vision, headaches and nausea.

The physician conducted an MRI and found nothing out of the ordinary. The patient received another MRI eight years later that showed that his brain had started bulging into the spinal canal. The patient sued the physician at Columbia basin Imaging just before he turned 19 years old. The physician at Columbia Basin Imaging claimed that the statute of limitations for medical malpractice had already passed. The judge agreed with the physician’s claim and dismissed the case.

The plaintiff went directly to the Washington Supreme Court, claiming that the statute of limitations infringed on minors’ rights guaranteed in the state Constitution. The court sided with the plaintiff 7-2 and revived his case. The majority felt that the statute of limitations placed an unfair burden on the minor and parents who may not have the all of the knowledge that they would need or the incentive to pursue a claim at the time of the diagnosis.

The majority further noted that this scenario would be especially impactful on foster children, children of minors and children with parents who may not be concerned by a potentially detrimental health condition. If the ruling impacts cases in North Carolina, it may help other families who are seeking to bring previously outdated medical malpractice claims to trial.

Source: Courthouse News Service , “Children’s Malpractice Cases Duck Time Limits”, Jeff D. Gorman , January 22, 2014

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