In its opinion filed on March 14, 2019, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (“D.C. Appellate Court”) held: “to be eligible for the ninety-day statute-of-limitations extension set forth in D.C. Code § 16-2803, a plaintiff must serve presuit notice within ninety days before the limitations period expires … there is no evidence that appellant did so here. As a result, appellant was required to file his action no more than three years after “the time the right to maintain the action accrue[d],” D.C. Code § 12-301(8), with no extension. Because it is clear from the face of appellant’s amended complaint that he did not do so, we find no error in the trial court’s conclusion that appellant’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.”
The appellant (plaintiff) had filed his District of Columbia medical malpractice complaint alleging that he received improper treatment at the defendant hospital between September 7-8, 2014, when two nurses went “fishing” for a vein in his right arm. The plaintiff alleged that the first nurse’s attempt to insert the intravenous needle caused appellant’s arm to “bleed significantly from the needle hole” and when a second nurse inserted the needle, his “thumb felt funny.” A radiology technician then “took out the needle in [appellant’s] right arm and put one in the back of [his] right hand without a problem,” but it “caused the back of [appellant’s] hand to sting intensely,” and appellant “screamed out, Ahhhhhh!” Appellant subsequently sought medical care related to the injury. His hand sometimes “feel[s] like it is going to sleep,” and he occasionally experiences “prickly pains, or sharp pains in the back of [his] wrist.”
The appellant filed his D.C. medical malpractice complaint on November 22, 2017. After the defendant hospital filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, the appellant filed both a brief in opposition and an amended complaint. The trial court granted the defendant hospital’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint on the grounds that the appellant did not file his complaint within the three-year limitations period established by D.C. Code § 12-301(8) (2012 Repl.), and did not provide the defendant hospital with ninety days’ pre-suit notice as required by D.C. Code § 16-2802 (2012 Repl.). The plaintiff then appealed.
D.C. Appellate Court Opinion
Before bringing a medical malpractice action in the District of Columbia, a plaintiff must satisfy two procedural requirements. First, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with notice of intention to file suit “not less than 90 days prior to filing the action.” D.C. Code § 16-2802(a) (2012 Repl.). The D.C. Appellate Court stated that this requirement serves to “encourage early settlements and facilitate the parties’ ability to reach a settlement,” which in turn “lower[s] each party’s individual costs,” and “promote[s] judicial economy by decreasing the time and money spent on these complicated and contentious issues.” Medical Malpractice Reform Act of 2006, D.C. Council, Report on Bill 16-418 at 1-2 (Apr. 28, 2006). In the event the parties are unable to resolve their dispute outside of the judicial process, the plaintiff must satisfy a second requirement: filing the complaint within the District of Columbia’s three-year limitations period for medical malpractice actions. D.C. Code § 12-301(8) (2012 Repl.). If the pre-suit notice required by D.C. Code § 16-2802(a) “is served within 90 days of the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, the time for the commencement of the action shall be extended 90 days from the date of the service of the notice.” D.C. Code § 16-2803 (2012 Repl.).
The appellant conceded that the three-year limitations period applicable to his claims began to run when his alleged injuries occurred on September 7-8, 2014, and that his complaint was not filed within three years of that date. However, the appellant contended that because his complaint was filed “within 90 days” after the limitations period expired, it is eligible for the statute-of-limitations extension provided by D.C. Code § 16-2803, and should be deemed timely.
The D.C. Appellate Court stated that by interpreting “within 90 days of the expiration” to mean “within 90 days before the expiration” accords with the policies underlying the statute of limitations, as defendants would in all cases have notice of the claims that may be asserted against them no more than three years after the right to bring the claims arose. The D.C. Appellate Court explained that the statute-of-limitations extension serves an understandable policy objective when applied to plaintiffs who serve notice of their claims before the three-year limitations period expires that is absent when it is applied to plaintiffs who serve notice of their claims only after the limitations period expires. If the ninety-day pre-suit notice requirement were not accompanied by a corresponding extension to the limitations period, it would effectively move up the statute-of-limitations deadline by ninety days, barring plaintiffs who served notice with less than ninety days remaining in the limitations period from bringing an action. The statute-of-limitations extension ameliorates this concern for plaintiffs who serve pre-suit notice within 90 days before the limitations period expires by extending that deadline by “90 days from the date of the service of the notice.” D.C. Code § 16-2803. It serves no similar purpose for plaintiffs who serve pre-suit notice for the first time only after the limitations period has already expired, as they face no possible hardship from an impending statute-of-limitations deadline.
The D.C. Appellate Court held that the appellant did not file his complaint within the applicable limitations period and failed to provide the defendant hospital with the required pre-suit notice.
Source Waugh v. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, No. 18-CV-329.
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