Georgia Court Dismisses Medical Malpractice Case Filed After Statute of Repose

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia medical malpractice case discussing the state’s statute of repose. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s claim against the physician was filed after the five-year statute of repose, and thus, was untimely.

What Is a Statute of Repose?

A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations in that it provides a timeframe in which a case must be brought. However, unlike a statute of limitations, a statute of repose cannot be tolled and is absolute. While a state of limitations focuses on the timeliness of the plaintiff’s complaint, a statute of repose is concerned with providing defendants immunity from long-term liability. Thus, under OCGA § 9-3-71, notwithstanding the two-year statute of limitations, “in no event may an action for medical malpractice be brought more than five years after the date on which the negligent or wrongful act or omission occurred.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s wife was seen by several doctors at the defendant medical practice while she was pregnant. During a routine prenatal sonogram in April 2012, doctors discovered a mass on the plaintiff’s wife’s right adnexa. However, neither the patient nor his wife was informed of the mass, and the mass was not documented among the issues that needed to be addressed.

Apparently, after the plaintiff’s wife delivered the baby she experienced severe abdominal pain and went to the emergency room. It was discovered that the previously identified mass had ruptured, spreading approximately 500 ml of fluid throughout her body. As it turns out, the mass was squamous cell carcinoma, which metastasized and eventually led to the plaintiff’s wife’s death in December 2013.

In July 2014, the plaintiff initially filed a medical malpractice case against the hospital and several of the physicians involved in his wife’s treatment. Later, the plaintiff learned the name of the doctor who reviewed the initial sonogram. In June 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to add the additional defendant. The court granted the motion, and the newly added defendant appealed.

The Court’s Opinion

The defendant doctor argued that under Georgia’s statute of repose, a case must be brought within five years. Here, the defendant noted, the plaintiff’s claim against her was filed after the five-year period had elapsed. The plaintiff argued that his case was initially filed well within the five years, and that he was only amending his complaint by adding the new defendant.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s position, and found in favor of the defendant doctor. The court explained that the statute of repose imposes a “bright-line” rule and courts are not authorized to permit untimely cases on a case-by-case basis. The court also held that the plaintiff’s amendment to his complaint did not relate back to the date of his original filing, because the plaintiff attempted to add an additional party and, in the court’s words, the plaintiff “did not commence his action for medical malpractice against [the defendant] until he amended his complaint to identify her as a party defendant, which was more than five years after her alleged negligence.”

Have You Been the Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has recently been the victim of negligent care from a healthcare professional, you may be eligible for financial compensation through a Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit. At McAleer Law, we proudly represent Georgia injury victims and their families, and have been doing so since 2003. To learn how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you have sustained, call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation today.

See More Posts:

Court Considers Whether Traumatic Boat Accident is Sufficient to Recover Emotional Damages Under Georgia’s Impact Rule, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, January 31, 2019.

Accident with Tractor Trailer leads to Serious Spinal Injuries, Settlement for $1.8m, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, February 19, 2019.

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