Court Discusses Prescriptive Period in Medical Malpractice Case

Regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware that the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act requires that all “claims against healthcare providers be reviewed or ‘filtered’ through a medical review panel before proceeding to any other court.” Also, medical malpractice suits are subject to a period of prescription — that is, the action must be filed within a certain period of time following the incident. La. R.S. 9:5628 establishes that this time period is one year from the negligent act or the date of its discovery, with the added limitation that the discovery extension is inapplicable after three years. State statute also specifically addresses how the medical review panel’s review of the case affects the prescriptive period. According to La. R.S. 40:1299.47(B), the running of the prescriptive period is suspended by the medical review panel’s proceedings until the panel’s decision is communicated to the plaintiff. In effect, the time required by the panel to review the case and issue a finding does not “count against” the plaintiff when determining the latest point at which the law permits him or her to file suit.

The plaintiff in the recent case of Blake v. Maley saw the dismissal of her suit due to her failure to file the action before the prescription period expired. Beverly Blake filed a request for a medical review panel on June 2, 2004. The request alleged medical malpractice against Dr. Warren Maley and the Willis Knighton Medical Center in Dr. Maley’s misdiagnosis of a fatal drug reaction suffered by her husband, Barry, who died on January 31, 2004. The medical review panel rendered a unanimous decision in favor of the defendants on May 15, 2007 and mailed the decision letter to Blake on May 25, 2007. Blake filed suit on November 3, 2009. In response to Dr. Maley’s subsequently filing an exception of prescription due to the delay, Blake responded that she was mentally incapable of filing the claim in a timely manner because she was severely depressed during the month of July, 2009. The trial court granted Dr. Maley’s exception and dismissed Blake’s suit. On appeal, the Second Circuit noted that Blake “concede[d] that the date of the alleged malpractice occurred on June 22, 2003, when Barry Blake received the drug” that caused the fatal reaction. Thus, Blake’s request for medical review by the panel was timely, and her “cause of action was suspended by the medical review panel proceedings until the mailing of the opinion on May 27, 2007.” After that date, the court calculated, Blake had 90 days plus the additional 20 days left on her original one-year period to file her suit. Yet, Blake filed her suit on November 3, 2009, “nearly two years after the prescriptive period for filing suit had tolled and more than six years after Blake’s stated date of the act of malpractice.” Blake’s argument for additional tolling due to her mental condition did not move the court. Observing that Civil Code Article 3468 provides that “[p]rescription runs against absent persons and incompetents, including minors and interdicts, unless exception is established by legislation,” the court determined that no statutory exception was available and that, accordingly, Blake’s “claims have clearly prescribed.”

The Blake case demonstrates the courts’ strict adherence to the timing requirements contained in Louisiana’s prescription statutes. While a widow’s state of depression following the death of her spouse is entirely understandable, it is critical to remember that the law demands swift action on the part of plaintiffs to initiate a lawsuit in medical malpractice cases.

If you or a loved one have experienced what you believe is negligence on the part of a healthcare provider, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 immediately and speak with an attorney who can help.

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