A statute of limitations is a time limit on how long a person has to file certain types of lawsuits. Generally the law requires that the lawsuits be filed within a few years of the injury. If the lawsuit is not filed within the specified time the right to sue is lost forever. Medical malpractice cases are no exception.
One medical malpractice case in the Tennessee Supreme Court has been dismissed because it was filed too late. This lawsuit was brought by the parents of Phillip Cunningham, Walton and Phyllis. Phillip was taken by his parents to Williamson Medical Center on November 14, 2008 to be treated for abdominal discomfort. He died on November 25, 2008 after suffering respiratory complications.
Under Tennessee law plaintiffs in medical malpractice actions are required to notify potential defendants of an impending lawsuit at least 60 days prior to filing the lawsuit. Once notice is provided, plaintiffs then have a 120 day extension to file a medical malpractice claim.
The Cunninghams provided Williamson Medical Center with a notice of intent to file a medical malpractice claim against them on November 14 and 16, 2009. However, since Williamson Medical Center is a governmental entity, it is subject to Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) which requires that lawsuits against governmental entities be filed within one year of the incident. The lawsuit was not filed against the hospital until March 12, 2010, which was about 15 months after Phillip’s death.
A motion to dismiss was filed by the hospital on the grounds that the Cunninghams’ did not file the lawsuit until after the one year deadline, which passed on November 25, 2009. The Cunninghams argued against the dismissal stating that the 60 day notice requirement extended the deadline for medical malpractice claims by 120 days and that this extension should apply even though the hospital is a government entity. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Supreme Court however determined that the 120 day extension did not apply because the lawsuit was brought under the GTLA. The Court stated that when there is a conflict with the requirements of the GTLA, it must be clearly stated by the legislature that the conflicting law was intended to apply to the GTLA. Since it was not clearly shown that the legislature intended to apply the 120 day extension to GTLA cases, the lawsuit was dismissed because it was filed after the one year deadline.
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