Timing and deadlines are important aspects of the judicial system. However, these specific guidelines are not familiar to most non-lawyers, which underscores the importance of having an excellent attorney represent you. The lack of an attorney can immediately put an individual at a disadvantage, as it did in one New Orleans woman’s case.
Ms. Scott decided to represent herself in her case against Kindred Hospital New Orleans (Kindred). She alleged that Kindred Hospital violated the standard of care she should have been afforded by allowing a hospital employee to sexually batter her while she was a patient there from May 16 to July 31, 2013. Additionally, she argued that the hospital failed to properly investigate the sexual battery.
Ms. Scott first brought the lawsuit against Kindred on May 5, 2014. Kindred argued that the claim must be submitted to a medical review panel since it was a medical negligence case. Kindred also filed an exception of prematurity to the trial court. The trial judge granted the exception of prematurity and dismissed the case.
On December 15, 2014, Ms. Scott brought the case before a medical review panel in accordance with the trial court’s decision. Kindred argued before the panel that the prescriptive period for medical negligence claims was one year; therefore, this case should be dismissed because it was untimely filed. Further, the injury took place from May to July 2013 and it had been more than a year later. Ms. Scott argued that the case was not a medical negligence case, but rather a sexual battery case which would have a prescriptive period of two years, making the filing timely. The judge, however, decided that the earlier ruling which stated that this case was a medical negligence claim was binding since Ms. Scott did not appeal the decision. Therefore, the filing was untimely and should be dismissed. Ms. Scott appealed this decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
“Once a final judgment acquires the authority of a thing adjudged, no court has jurisdiction to change the judgment, regardless of the magnitude of the final judgment’s error.” Avenue Plaza, L.L.C. v. Falgoust, 676 So. 2d 1077, 1079 (La. Ct. App. 1996). The doctrine of res judicata prevents the re-litigation of issues and claims which arise from the same event when there is a final, valid judgment on the merits. La. R.S.13:4231.
On appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, the Court found that Ms. Scott made the error of not immediately appealing the trial court’s judgment which led to a shorter amount of time to file her claims. Since Ms. Scott did not try to appeal the trial judge’s decision, the trial judge’s official judicial decision that classified the case as a medical negligence case which required review by medical review panel final and binding under the doctrine of res judicata.
This case shows the importance of understanding the complexity of the legal system, specifically, the amount of time given to file claims. While the courts did state that individuals representing themselves were given the benefit of the doubt, the courts also state that individuals should understand the possible consequences of not choosing an attorney to represent them.
Additional Sources: Medical Review Panel Claim of Sylvia Veronica Scott
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Isha Shah
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Prescription: Plaintiff Cannot Bring Medical Malpractice Claim Against Doctor Due to Untimely Filing of Lawsuit