Massachusetts Court of Appeals Applies Continuing Treatment Doctrine in Reversing Dismissal of Medical Malpractice Case Based on Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are one of the most important elements of any civil action, including personal injury cases. Like most other states, Massachusetts has enacted a statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases, providing an injured party with three years from the date the right to sue accrued to file his or her case. When it comes to medical negligence, however, it isn’t always clear when the plaintiff’s injuries arose. Some diagnoses can be difficult to make based on the plaintiff’s existing illnesses, or when the symptoms do not manifest for several months–or even years.

In the recent case of Parr v. Rosenthal, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals had the opportunity to review a trial court’s dismissal of a medical malpractice action based on the lower court’s determination that the plaintiffs failed to file their lawsuit within the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs consisted of two parents of a child whose leg suffered severe burns, ultimately requiring amputation. During 2005, and in an attempt to repair the leg prior to the amputation, the treating physicians used a procedure called a radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Complications arose during this procedure, requiring amputation of the leg.

During a trial on the matter, the plaintiffs asked the judge to instruct the jury about the continuing treatment doctrine and its impact on the statute of limitations, but the trial court judge denied their request. According to this doctrine, the statute of limitations for an injury arising from a doctor’s medical malpractice is tolled, or paused, during the period of time that the plaintiff or victim continues to receive treatment “for the same injury or illness allegedly caused by the original treating physician.”

Following deliberations, the jury concluded that the plaintiffs did not file their case within the statute of limitations period because they did not file their lawsuit during the three years in which they knew or should have known that that the defendant doctor had committed medical malpractice.

On appeal to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, the court reversed the lower court’s ruling, concluding that Massachusetts recognizes the continuing treatment doctrine and that the facts of the plaintiffs’ case warranted a jury instruction on the impact of this doctrine on the statute of limitations. Regarding whether subsequent medical treatment from other physicians is imputable to the original doctor accused of committing medical malpractice, the Court of Appeals concluded that it is an issue for the jury to consider and that the statute of repose may provide a bar to the case. Like the statute of limitations, the statute of repose bars lawsuits from being brought after a specified time period has run from the occurrence of a specified event besides the event that gave rise to the plaintiff’s injury.

If you or someone you love has been injured due to a doctor’s or medical professional’s carelessness, The Law Offices of John S. Moffa can help. Our experienced team of medical malpractice attorneys knows firsthand just how devastating this situation can be for you and your family. We provide our clients with dedicated and compassionate legal representation and ensure that your rights are being protected along every step of the case. Call us now at 1-866-476-0828 or contact us online to set up your free consultation today.

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