An appellate court in California has upheld a $285,000 judgment for a plaintiff who filed a medical malpractice claim 15 months after the discovery of malpractice.
In California, the statute of limitations for filing a malpractice claim is either (a) three years from the date of the malpractice, or (b) within a year of the plaintiff’s discovery of malpractice or when he or she would have discovered it by exercising due diligence, whichever is earlier. These deadlines were established in California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA).
While the plaintiff in this case filed the claim 15 months after discovery, he claimed that because the defendant had not advised him of the existence of a statute of limitations for malpractice suits (which the defendant is obligated to do), that Insurance Code §11583 (which tolls the statute of limitations on malpractice claims in certain situations), applied here, and enabled him to file a claim after the 1-year deadline.
The defense argued that because Insurance Code §11583 was not one of the tolling provisions specifically enacted by MICRA, that it was irrelevant to the case, and that if the toll were allowed, the defendant would essentially be subjected to an endless liability period.
The appellate court rejected this argument, citing another case in which a non-MICRA statue of limitations tolled the MICRA-enacted 1-year statute of limitations as precedent. The court interpreted the statutes as permitting for the tolling of the 1-year statute in the event the plaintiff had not been informed of its existence. The 3-year statute may not be tolled, according to the court.
The defendant also argued that because they had paid the plaintiff a partial settlement for medical expenses after the discovery of malpractice, that Insurance Code §11583 was irrelevant. The court rejected this argument. "Given the lack of a signed release, the justice said, a ruling for the defendant on that issue would be inconsistent with the remedial purpose of the statute," according to Metropolitan News-Enterprise.