In its opinion filed on July 8, 2016, the Supreme Court of Alabama (“Alabama Supreme Court”) affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s Alabama medical malpractice lawsuit because the plaintiff would be unable to prove any set of facts to support his claim that his legal injury occurred beyond the expiration of the four-year period of repose, based on the allegations stated in the plaintiff’s complaint.
The plaintiff alleged that the medical malpractice defendants had been negligent and wanton in failing to inform him of a two-centimeter tumor/lesion in the right frontal region of his brain that was discovered by an MRI scan of his brain taken on June 28, 2005 (the plaintiff alleged that he was told at that time that the tumor/lesion was a bruise).
The plaintiff filed his Alabama medical malpractice complaint on October 14, 2015, which was more than 10 years after the alleged malpractice occurred. The plaintiff claimed, however, that his cause of action for medical malpractice did not accrue until February 11, 2015, when he alleges he first suffered a legal injury (i.e., a seizure that required him to undergo a surgical resection of the tumor/lesion, which was ultimately diagnosed as grade II astrocytoma).
The plaintiff argued that he had filed his Alabama medical malpractice lawsuit within Alabama’s four-year statute of repose (” … in no event may the action be commenced more than four years after such act … ” § 6-5-482(a), Ala. Code 1975). The medical malpractice defendants argued that the plaintiff’s medical malpractice complaint must be dismissed because the alleged facts demonstrated a manifest legal injury and the accrual of the plaintiff’s cause of action within the four-year period of repose. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s Alabama medical malpractice lawsuit and the plaintiff appealed.
The Alabama Supreme Court stated that it is well settled that in medical malpractice actions, the legal injury occurs at the time of the negligent act or omission, regardless of whether the injury is or could be discovered within the statutory period. The Alabama Supreme Court further stated that the key fact in the present case is the time at which the plaintiff first suffered a legal injury caused by the defendants’ failure to inform him of the tumor/lesion appearing on the June 28, 2005 MRI.
The Alabama Supreme Court noted that the plaintiff specifically alleged in his medical malpractice complaint that his tumor/lesion began its adverse growth process and/or became malignant “within the 4 years following June 28, 2005,” and/or that “the process was started within the two years after [the MRI] on June 28, 2005.” Accordingly, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the four-year statute of repose would have begun to run at the latest by June 28, 2009, despite the fact that the plaintiff did not learn of the presence of the tumor/lesion until February 11, 2015 (“it is clear from the allegations of his complaint that [the plaintiff] suffered a legal injury “within the [four] years following [the] June 28, 2005,” MRI, because it is within that time that [the plaintiff] alleges the tumor/lesion began its growth process and/or became malignant. Thus, [the plaintiff’s] argument that his “legal injury” could not have manifested itself until he actually suffered harm is unavailing”).
Source Cutler v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., 1150546.
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