Every state has different rules on when a patient can bring a medical malpractice claim against a medical professional or a hospital. In New York the statute of limitations is only two and a half years from the date the injury occurred. However, there are exceptions. One such exception is the “continuous treatment doctrine.” Under the continuous treatment doctrine, the statute of limitations is postponed until all treatment with respect to a particular ailment is concluded. This gives defendant-health care providers the opportunity to correct any mistake that may have been made prior to the patient initiating a lawsuit.
Wyoming has a similar rule, which lead to the Wyoming Supreme Court’s reversal of the ruling in favor of the hospital in one medical malpractice case. In December of 2007, the patient, Nobles, was traveling with his significant other when he began having difficulty breathing, vomited, and then passed out. He was taken to a hospital in Rawlins. Later he was transferred to Cheyenne Regional and admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). In the ICU he was diagnosed with pneumonia which resulted in respiratory failure.
During his stay in the ICU, a hospital employee allegedly pulled and twisted Nobles’ arm in an attempt to pull hum up in the bed. After this he began to have pain and dysfunction in his right arm. The doctors were unable to determine what caused the problem and gave Nobles a regiment of physical and occupational therapy that was meant to improve the function of his hand, arm, and shoulder. On March 15, 2008 he was discharged from the hospital but was still unable to move his shoulder. He followed up on his injury with a neurologist in his home town. Nobles was diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury to his right should and arm.
Almost two years later, on March 11, 2010, Nobles presented the hospital a claim; and a notice of claim against the hospital with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel. Review was waived by the hospital and the panel authorized Nobles to file a lawsuit, which he did on June 11, 2010. The lawsuit claimed that the hospital was negligent in allowing a staff member to move him.
Under Wyoming law, a cause of action against a certified or licensed professional or health-care service must be brought within two years of the alleged act. The hospital asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because he missed the deadline to file since the alleged injury occurred in February 2008, making the March 11, 2010 filing too late. The lower court agreed and entered a judgment in favor of the hospital.
However, the Wyoming Supreme Court Justices said that this ruling was not consistent with the continuous treatment rule. Since the hospital treated Nobles’ should and arm until the date he was discharged, the claim was filed just under the two-year deadline.
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