The Supreme Court of Guam (“Guam Supreme Court”) overturned a dental malpractice verdict in the amount of $62,236.35 in favor of the plaintiff in its opinion filed on December 7, 2015, after determining that the one-year discovery ruled applied to the plaintiff’s dental malpractice claim so that the defendant dentist could not be held responsible for any dental treatment falling outside of the one-year period as it applied to the facts of the case.
Guam has a three-year outer bar from the date of treatment, omission or operation for medical malpractice claims but also applies a one-year discovery rule to Guam medical malpractice claims: “An action to recover damages for injuries to the person arising from any medical, surgical or dental treatment, omission or operation shall be commenced with [sic] one (1) year from the date when the injury is first discovered; provided, that such action shall be commenced within three (3) years from the date of treatment, omission or operation upon which the action is based.” 7 GCA Section 11308.
In the case it was deciding, the Guam Supreme Court stated that it had to determine (1) whether the plaintiff’s claim fell within the one-year statute of limitations following discovery of malpractice; (2) whether the existence of an ongoing physician-patient relationship tolled the statute of limitations throughout the pendency of the relationship; and (3) whether the continuous negligent treatment doctrine was applicable to the plaintiff’s claims.
Because the plaintiff had consulted with another dentist on April 25, 2000 regarding the defendant dentist’s treatment previously provided to the plaintiff, the Guam Supreme Court stated that the April 2000 consultation should have raised a suspicion of wrongdoing by the defendant dentist in the plaintiff’s mind at that time, which would have required the plaintiff to file his Guam dental malpractice claim by April 25, 2001 in order to recover damages for any pre-April 25, 2000 injuries.
The Guam Supreme Court also discussed tolling based upon the physician-patient relationship, which the Guam Supreme Court stated did not apply to the plaintiff’s dental malpractice claim for injuries prior to April 25, 2000 because the plaintiff discovered his injuries or should have discovered his injuries through the use of reasonable diligence (i.e., the facts of the case would put a reasonable person on notice of the claims for injuries prior to April 25, 2000 despite any continued professional relationship).
The Guam Supreme Court further held that the continued course of treatment exception that would toll the statute of limitations did not apply to the plaintiff’s dental malpractice claim because the plaintiff either was aware, or reasonably should have been aware, of any injuries he sustained prior to April 25, 2000. The Guam Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s telephone calls to the defendant dentist did not constitute “treatment” for continuing negligent treatment purposes because there was no mutual agreement or expectation for a future consultation.
Source Kennedy v. Sule, 2015 Guam 38.
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