The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District (“Pennsylvania Supreme Court”) held in its opinion filed on October 17, 2018, “we respectfully find that the Superior Court erred by concluding, as a matter of law, that Plaintiffs knew or should have known sometime between July and September of 2009 (the dates of the first few visits with Nurse Rhoads) that Mrs. Nicolaou suffered from Lyme disease and that her debilitating health problems could have been caused by Defendants’ failure to diagnose and treat such condition.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that in granting summary judgment to the Pennsylvania medical malpractice defendants for the failure of the plaintiffs to file their Pennsylvania medical malpractice case within the applicable statute of limitations, the Superior Court relied upon the fact that by such time an MRI had indicated that Mrs. Nicolaou had suffered from either Lyme disease or MS, Nurse Rhoads had informed Mrs. Nicolaou of a probable diagnosis of Lyme disease based upon her clinical symptoms, and some of Mrs. Nicolaou’s symptoms had improved upon administration of antibiotics. When viewed in a vacuum, these facts may have alerted a reasonable person that she suffered an injury at the hands of medical professionals who failed to diagnose and treat her Lyme disease. Indeed, these circumstances may or may not persuade a jury to so conclude.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated, however, that courts may not view facts in a vacuum when determining whether a plaintiff has exercised the requisite diligence as a matter of law, but must consider what a reasonable person would have known had he or she been confronted with the same circumstances that Mrs. Nicolaou faced at the time. When viewing the evidence in this manner, it is simply uncertain whether the plaintiffs knew or should have known that the defendants’ misdiagnosis caused Mrs. Nicolaou’s injuries at the precise moment that Nurse Rhoads suggested the same. At that point in time, Mrs. Nicolaou had been repeatedly and definitively told by several health care professionals, most recently Dr. Gould, that her suspicions of Lyme disease were unfounded and that her inability to walk and function as she previously had done resulted from the devastating effects of MS. Further, Mrs. Nicolaou had undergone, not one, but four separate Lyme disease tests, which had all produced negative results. Finally, there was evidence suggesting that Mrs. Nicolaou’s lack of health insurance precluded her from paying the cost required to take the IGeneX Lyme disease test when Nurse Rhoads initially recommended.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that until the conflicts in the record are resolved and inferences from the facts are drawn, the issue of whether the plaintiffs knew or should have known of the injury and that it was caused by the defendants’ negligent conduct remains disputed. To find the discovery rule inapplicable, the Superior Court was required to undertake fact-resolution and inference-drawing functions, which are preserved for the jury.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held: “it is within the province of a jury to determine whether an untrained lay person who had been repeatedly and definitively diagnosed with MS by several previous physicians, had four prior negative Lyme disease tests, and lacked health insurance to cover the costs of further diagnostic testing “reasonably should have known” that she suffered from Lyme disease after Nurse Rhoads informed her of a “probable” diagnosis of that disease based on her clinical symptoms, and when some of her symptoms improved after taking antibiotics prescribed for that condition … Moreover, it is for the jury, and not a court, to determine whether a person in Mrs. Nicolaou’s circumstances acted reasonably in delaying the administration of a fifth Lyme disease test to confirm Nurse Rhoad’s probable diagnosis. We reach this conclusion keeping in mind that the appropriate formulation of discovery rule jurisprudence applies “a reasonable-diligence requirement, as opposed to an all-vigilance one.””
Source Nicolaou v. Martin, No. 44 MAP 2017.
If you or a loved one suffered harm as a result of the misdiagnosis of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Lyme disease lawyer in Pennsylvania or in your state who may investigate your Lyme disease claim for you and represent you in a Lyme disease malpractice case, if appropriate.
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