Statute of Limitations and Repose for North Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases

In a recent North Carolina appellate decision, the guardian ad litem for a man appealed the court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of a doctor and county hospital system. The North Carolina medical malpractice case arose in spring 2015, when the plaintiff sued the defendant doctor and hospital system for medical malpractice. He voluntarily dismissed the complaint in the fall of 2015.

The plaintiff re-filed the complaint and then filed an amended complaint. She claimed that he was born in 1996, and until his 18th birthday was a minor who was under a disability preventing him from suing the defendants for medical malpractice and professional negligence. The guardian ad litem claimed that her claim was filed within the appropriate statute of repose, since the last act that could be considered professional negligence happened in 2012, when their negligent treatment was discovered.

He’d started having vision problems in 2011 and was later diagnosed with a large pituitary adenoma. The guardian ad litem claimed his neurosurgeon negligently didn’t evaluate the nature of the adenoma by not ordering a blood test to decide whether the pituitary adenoma could be treated medically instead of surgically.

The man went through surgery with the defendant doctor, and as a result, his brain substantially swelled, causing a stroke and debilitating neurological damage. The guardian ad litem claimed this surgery wasn’t appropriate because he had a prolactinoma that should have been treated medically, rather than surgically. She claimed the doctor’s failure to order a blood test departed from the professional standard of care.

She also claimed he switched doctors, and the new doctor ordered a blood test that showed his tumor was a prolactinoma that he could treat medically. She claimed the surgery and delay in starting appropriate medical treatment had legally caused severe, permanent physiological and neurological damage to the patient.

The defendants responded and also filed for summary judgment, which the court granted. The court found that the statute of limitations was found in N.C.G.S. § 1-15(c) and § 1-17(b). It found the patient was 19 as of the first month of 2015. He filed his original complaint in his own name, and that first complaint didn’t allege he was incompetent. The first complaint was filed in 2014, and it stated the three-year statute of limitations started running in January 2014 because he was a minor. The court found that the plaintiff had no judicially recognized incompetence or disability that would change the statute of limitations.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court had made a mistake in deciding that it was necessary to get an adjudication of incompetency in order to toll the statute of limitations. She also claimed there was a genuine factual issue as to whether he’d been incompetent since his 18th birthday, when the guardian ad litem was appointed.

The appellate court agreed with her. It explained that the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is three years from the date the right to sue accrued. The limitations period starts to accrue during the last act of the defendant that gives rise to the cause of action under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-15(c). When suing on behalf of minors, this limitations period applies, except when the time limits expire before the minor gets to be 19 years old. An action can be brought before the minor turns 19. Someone who is disabled when an action accrues can bring a lawsuit within a particular time period after the disability is removed. Someone’s under a disability if he or she is incompetent as defined in G.S. 35A-1101(7) or (8). Incompetent adults are those who don’t have enough capacity to manage their own affairs or talk about their decisions related to property, family, or person. There are many different conditions that constitute a disability.

In this case, the appellate court found that if someone meets the statutory definition of an incompetent adult under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 35A-1101(7), the applicable statute of limitations is tolled until the disability is gone. No finding of incompetency is required to toll the statute of limitations. In this case, the plaintiff argued the patient’s disability started at the surgery and continued until a guardian ad litem was appointed, and it submitted seven affidavits to this effect. It found there was a forecast of enough evidence by the plaintiff to create a factual issue and reversed the lower court.

If you suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina personal injury attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 888-258-1087 or via our online form.

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