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Lower Court’s Medical Malpractice Ruling Overturned On Statute Of Limitations Interpretation

A California man sued his primary care physician, his neurologist, and their employer, alleging that he was misdiagnosed after reporting headaches. The headaches were initially dismissed, although it was later discovered that the cause was a massive brain tumor.

The plaintiff, Steve Drexler, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. David Petersen, Dr. Craig German, and their employer, HealthCare Partners Medical Group, Inc.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit was based upon claims that the doctors had negligently misdiagnosed the cause of his chronic headaches. Ultimately, the plaintiff went to the emergency room where a correct diagnosis, a brain tumor, was made. However, by the time the correct diagnosis was made, the tumor had grown to the point that the plaintiff’s cranial nerves had to be severed in order for the tumor to be removed. The severing of the nerves caused the plaintiff to lose vision in his left eye, deafness in his left ear, facial paralysis, loss of musculature and strength, and other ailments.

While the plaintiff’s story was horrible, the trial court granted a motion for summary judgment to all three defendants. The court cited section 340.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, finding that the plaintiff’s action was barred because disputed issues of material fact existed as to whether the plaintiff discovered his injury within the meaning of section 340.5 more than one year before he filed his lawsuit.

Section 340.5 states: “In an action for injury or death against a health care provider based upon such person’s alleged professional negligence, the time for commencement of action shall be three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.”

The plaintiff had contacted an attorney on January 15, 2011 and asked for his medical records and, to that end, the trial court found that the plaintiff had suspicion of wrongdoing at that time.

However, on appeal, the higher court ruled that even with the presence of suspicion, the statute of limitations do not begin to run until the plaintiff became aware of additional, appreciable harm from his preexisting condition and had reason to believe that the injury was caused by wrongdoing.

Since there were disputed issues of material fact regarding whether plaintiff discovered his injury within the meaning of section 340.5 more than one year before he filed his lawsuit, the higher court reversed the trial court’s decision.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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