One of the first things that must be determined in a potential medical malpractice claim is whether the statute of limitations bars the claim. An otherwise legitimate malpractice lawsuit may be invalid simply because the injured party waited too long to file the claim. In the State of Louisiana, the statutory period in which a claim must be filed is referred to as the “prescriptive period.” If a case is “prescribed”, it is beyond the statutory period. Louisiana statutory law (La. R.S. 9:5628(A)) states that malpractice suits must be filed “within one year from the date of the alleged act, omission, or neglect, or within one year from the date of discovery of the alleged act, omission or neglect.”
In a recent Louisiana Court of Appeals Case, Amos v. Crouch, the court addressed the issue of what constitutes “discovery” of the alleged negligent act or omission. In the Amos case, Dr. Crouch, a Jackson Parish general surgeon, diagnosed a patient with severe hemorrhoids when in fact the patient had colorectal cancer. After receiving the hemorrhoids diagnosis from Dr. Crouch, the patient decided to see another doctor for a second opinion. After a brief examination, the second doctor ordered tests that ultimately revealed the colorectal cancer. The Court of Appeals concluded that it was at the time of his cancer diagnosis that the statutory period began to run. The Court declared, “Prescription begins when a plaintiff obtains actual or constructive knowledge of facts indicating to a reasonable person that he or she is the victim of a tort.” It is important to note that knowledge only refers to “such information that ought to put the alleged victim on inquiry.” Therefore, in certain circumstances, a correct diagnosis from a second physician can equate to “discovery” of the doctor’s negligent act, triggering the prescriptive period.
However, the court refused to treat a correct secondary diagnosis as a per se reasonable belief that the original doctor committed malpractice. Instead, the court declared, “it depends on the particular circumstances of each case.” But, the Amos case does infer that a correct secondary diagnosis, although not conclusive, acts as strong evidence toward proving that a reasonable person would have discovered the possibility of malpractice at that time.
Of course, a secondary diagnosis that proves a previous diagnosis to be erroneous does not necessarily equate to malpractice. It is certainly possible for doctors to maintain their duty of care while reaching an ultimately erroneous diagnosis. Even so, there is always the possibility that an erroneous diagnosis may have been caused by negligence. Therefore, it is important for all patients to be weary of the short prescriptive period in Louisiana (one year), and to understand that a correct secondary diagnosis may start the clock on the one year timer. Therefore, if you believe you may have been the victim of medical malpractice, your best chance of compensation is to contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure the statute of limitations does not expire.
The Berniard Law Firm has experience handling all types of medical malpractice claims. Call us at 1-866-574-8005 or visit laclaim.com and let us help you.