In its slip opinion dated October 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of Ohio (“Ohio Supreme Court”) overturned the decision of the lower appellate court and ruled that Ohio’s medical malpractice statute of repose, R.C. 2305.113(C), is a true statute of repose that applies to both vested and nonvested claims. Therefore, any medical malpractice action must be filed within four years of the occurrence of the act or omission alleged to have caused a plaintiff’s injury.
R.C. 2305.113(C) provides that the time for bringing a medical malpractice complaint has an absolute limit and states:
(1) No action upon a medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim shall be commenced more than four years after the occurrence of the act or omission constituting the alleged basis of the medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim.
(2) If an action upon a medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim is not commenced within four years after the occurrence of the act or omission constituting the alleged basis of the medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim, then, any action upon that claim is barred.
The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that R.C. 2305.113(C) is a statute of repose because the time for bringing a suit under the section begins running from the occurrence of the act or omission constituting the alleged basis of the claim. The Ohio Supreme Court stated that the plain language of the statute is clear, unambiguous, and means what it says: if a lawsuit bringing a medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim is not commenced within four years after the occurrence of the act or omission constituting the basis for the claim, then any action on that claim is barred.
The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that filing then dismissing a claim will indefinitely suspend the statute of repose by “commencing” the suit on the date of the first filing, stating that the law is clear that once a complaint has been dismissed without prejudice, legally, that action is deemed to never have existed.
The Ohio Supreme Court held in the case that it was deciding that no action on the medical malpractice claims “commenced” until the second state court complaint was filed in November 2013. By that time, more than four years had passed since the act or omission constituting the alleged basis of the medical claim. Because the action was plainly commenced outside the four-year statute-of-repose period, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the trial court correctly granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
The Ohio Supreme Court stated that a medical malpractice claim vests when a patient discovers or in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence should have discovered the resulting injury (a vested right is one that is fixed, settled, absolute, and not contingent upon anything). The Ohio Supreme Court held that Ohio’s medical malpractice statute of repose is constitutional even to the extent that it prohibits bringing suit on a cause of action that has vested.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Concurring Opinion
The plaintiffs had voluntarily dismissed their medical malpractice lawsuit that they had filed in state court and thereafter filed a federal lawsuit within one year of the voluntary dismissal of their state action. The Ohio savings statute applies only if a party files a substantially similar action within one year of the dismissal without prejudice. The federal action did not contain medical malpractice allegations, as alleged in the state action, and therefore the Ohio Supreme Court held that the federal action was not “substantially similar” to the voluntarily dismissed state action and Ohio’s savings statute therefore did not apply.
A concurring opinion to the majority’s opinion stated that the pro se plaintiffs filed their complaint too late: they attempted to avail themselves of Ohio’s savings statute but that attempt was ill-considered because the federal action relied upon did not allege medical malpractice or seek damages. Therefore, the judgment of the court of appeals should be summarily reversed “and the story should have ended,” but the majority opinion unnecessarily “saw an opportunity to further assault the fundamental constitutional right to a remedy.”
The concurring opinion argued that the import of the majority opinion is that negligent medical providers are more important than the people they injure: any person suffering an injury due to medical negligence must now discover the injury within four years or be foreclosed from recovery, even if the injury is not reasonably discoverable. In the short term, this is not a particularly important case: not many Ohioans are unable to determine that they have been negligently injured by a medical provider within four years. But the long-term impact of this case is incalculably bad: some toxins are long acting, with unforeseeable consequences.
The concurring opinion concurred as to the judgment only, and dissented to “everything else in the majority opinion.”
Source Antoon v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Slip Opinion 2016-Ohio-7432
If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of medical negligence in Ohio or in another U.S. state, you should consult with a local medical malpractice lawyer in Ohio or in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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