The Supreme Court of Kentucky (“Kentucky Supreme Court”), in its opinion rendered on April 30, 2020, held that the Kentucky medical malpractice plaintiff, who suffered a fourth-degree laceration during childbirth that led to the diagnosis of a rectovaginal fistula two weeks later, allegedly due to the two defendant physicians negligently leaving a small hole when they missed a stitch when suturing her immediately after child birth, had filed her Kentucky medical malpractice lawsuit too late.
Kentucky’s Medical Malpractice Statute Of Limitations
KRS 413.140(1)(e) requires that any action against a physician or hospital alleging negligence or malpractice must be “commenced within one (1) year after the cause of action accrued.” Further, “the cause of action shall be deemed to accrue at the time the injury is first discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered.” KRS 413.140(2).
In the case the Kentucky Supreme Court was deciding, the plaintiff’s baby was delivered on August 2, 2013. On August 9 and August 12, 2013, the plaintiff returned to the defendant hospital, complaining of stool coming out of her vagina. She was cleaned, treated, and sent home both times. On August 13, 2013, the plaintiff again returned to the defendant hospital with the same complaint, at which time she was admitted and diagnosed with a rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal tract or connection between the rectum and vagina). The physician who treated the plaintiff explained to her that there was a small hole where the two defendant physicians had missed a stitch when suturing her immediately after child birth. Also during this hospital admission, the plaintiff’s sister spoke directly to one of the defendant physicians, who confirmed that she and the other defendant physician delivered the baby and repaired the laceration (the plaintiff was in the same room during this conversation).
Also during the same hospital admission, a nurse named “Pam” was critical of the care provided by the defendant physicians and expressed her concerns to the plaintiff. Before being discharged on August 21, 2013, the plaintiff met with a female reconstructive specialist, who was also very critical of the care provided by the defendant physicians.
On August 1, 2014, the plaintiff filed her Kentucky medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and others, but did not name as defendants the two physicians until she filed her First Amended Complaint on October 20, 2014, more than one year and two months after she gave birth. The two defendant physicians filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the claims against them were time-barred under Kentucky Revised Statute (“KRS”) 413.140(1)(e). The plaintiff argued, in part, that the statute of limitations was tolled by the continuous treatment doctrine. The trial court granted the defendant physicians’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing all claims against them.
The plaintiff appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which affirmed, and then sought further review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Kentucky Supreme Court Opinion
Continuous Treatment Doctrine
Under the continuous treatment doctrine, the statute of limitations is tolled as long as the patient is under the continuing care of the physician for the injury caused by the negligent act or omission. The plaintiff urged the Kentucky Supreme Court to expand the continuous treatment doctrine to include situations when a patient continues to receive care at the same hospital but not by the same physician.
The Kentucky Supreme Court stated, “We do not believe that the rationale behind the continuous treatment doctrine would be served by expanding the doctrine in the way that [the plaintiff] urges. Expanding the doctrine to include treatment by any physician at the Hospital does not serve to “bolster the relationship of trust and confidence” that a patient has with a particular treating physician at the Hospital. The type of relationship between a patient and the Hospital, or all physicians at the Hospital, is different in kind and degree than the relationship between a patient and a single treating physician. A patient’s “ability to make an informed judgment as to the negligent treatment” is not so impaired by her relationship with the Hospital itself to prevent her from discovering her injury. It, therefore, does not justify expansion of the doctrine under the facts of this case.”
Source Sneed v. University of Louisville Hospital, 2019-SC-000048-DG.
If you or your baby suffered serious harm during pregnancy, labor, and/or delivery in Kentucky or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Kentucky medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you and/or your baby in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.