Thursday, January 30, 2020

Third Circuit Applies Statute of Limitations Discovery Rule in Med Mal Context



Should a Plaintiff be charged with knowledge of an injury being the result of a defective product to start the clock running on the statute of limitations where the product was implanted in the Plaintiff's body during a medical procedure?

That was the issue in the case of Adams v. Zimmer US, Inc., No. 18-3011 (3d. Cir. Nov. 20, 2019), in which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court erred in granting the Defendant’s summary judgment based upon the statute of limitations in a products liability suit involving a hip implant.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the Plaintiff could not be charged with constructive knowledge of an allegedly defective hip implant where even her own doctor did not realize there was a problem with the implant until the Plaintiff underwent revision surgery.

The Court of Appeals noted that, under Pennsylvania’s discovery rule, the commencement of the limitations period is based upon an inquiry notice, which is tied to some knowledge of some form of significant harm and of a factual cause linking that harm to another’s conduct. The Court noted that the discovery rule does not require notice as to the full extent of the injury, the fact of actual negligence, or the precise cause of the injury.

The court also emphasized that, under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations begins to run when the Plaintiff knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known that she was injured and that the injury was caused by another person. The court noted that, in a medical malpractice context, “diagnostic uncertainty usually creates a jury question.”

The court further noted that the discovery rule does require a patient to have a precise medical diagnosis to start the running of a statute of limitations. Rather, a lay person in the medical malpractice context is only charged with the knowledge communicated to him or her by the medical professionals who provided treatment and diagnosis.

Here, the court found that, if the treating doctor did not realize a problem with the implant that was injuring the Plaintiff until the revision surgery, then the Plaintiff certainly could not be charged with such constructive knowledge. Therefore, given that factual disputes remained regarding the application of the discovery rule to the case presented, the court held that the lower court had erred in granting the Defendant summary judgment.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

No comments:

Post a Comment