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Justices analyze occurrence-based limitations

November 13, 2008

Two Indiana Supreme Court justices dissented from the majority today in two medical malpractice suits because they believed the majority's reasoning behind the decisions that both plaintiffs' claims are time-barred would foster suspicion and doubt between health-care providers and their patients.

Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker dissented from the majority's decisions in Lloyd Overton v. Marshall Grillo, D.O., et al., No. 64S04-0811-CV-595, and Victor Herron v. Anthony A. Anigbo, M.D., No. 45S03-0811-CV-594. In the opinions, the majority found both Lloyd and Christine Overtons' medical negligence claim for allegedly misreading a mammogram, and Victor Herron's medical malpractice claim for a surgery performed after a fall to be time-barred by the two-year statue of limitations.

In Herron, the Supreme Court analyzed the occurrence-based limitations period for medical malpractice claims, trigger dates, and reasonable diligence by a patient. The majority ruled in both Herron and Overton that the trigger dates in which the parties learned about the possible malpractice or facts that with reasonable diligence should lead to the discovery of malpractice occurred within the two-year statute of limitations. A patient's window in bringing an action is triggered if the patient should know of the possible malpractice even if there is not reason to suspect malpractice. Overton and Herron had time to file a claim because nothing prevented them from filing within the remaining time period. In Overton, Christine Overton knew of her condition when she was diagnosed with cancer a year after her first mammogram and that she had not been previously diagnosed after that first mammogram.

"That is enough to put the plaintiff on inquiry notice of the possibility of malpractice and ... the remaining several months was more than adequate to explore the issue," wrote Justice Theodore Boehm for the majority in Overton. The justices used similar reasoning to reach the same conclusion in Herron.

But Justices Dickson and Rucker disagreed, with Justice Dickson writing a similar dissent in both opinions. Citing Booth v. Wiley, 839 N.E.2d 1168, 1172 (Ind. 2005), the justice feared the majority's ruling in Herron would create an "unprecedented new and rigorous barrier preventing injured patients a reasonable opportunity to access the courts" for medical malpractice claims. He also worried the majority's rationale would foster a climate of suspicion and doubt between a patient and his or her health-care provider.

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