In its decision filed on August 7, 2015, the Massachusetts Appeals Court had to decide whether the continuing treatment doctrine tolls the statute of limitations in medical malpractice actions in Massachusetts. The Appeals Court held that the statute of limitations shall be tolled on a medical malpractice claim so long as the plaintiff receives continuing treatment for the same injury or illness allegedly caused by the original treating physician, even if the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury and its cause, subject to the limit of the statute of repose. The Appeals Court further stated that whether subsequent care provided by other physicians can be imputed to the original treating physician will be a question for the jury, as will the question whether the patient is continuing treatment in good faith.
In the case the Appeals Court was deciding, the plaintiff had requested that the trial judge instruct the Massachusetts medical malpractice jury with regard to the continuing treatment doctrine. The trial judge refused to do so and the jury returned a defense verdict, concluding, pursuant to the trial judge’s instructions, that the statute of limitations had run because the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known that he had been harmed by the defendant within the Massachusetts three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial judge committed error when he refused to instruct the jury with regard to the continuing treatment doctrine.
The Appeals Court discussed whether treatment by an associated doctor can be imputed to the alleged negligent doctor. The Appeals Court stated that when there is a close relationship between the doctors, or a patient is considered a patient of the group, then subsequent treatment by another doctor may be imputed. However, if the jury concludes that the defendant was simply a specialist who provided discrete care and did not participate in the care of the plaintiff, then the care of the other doctors in the medical practice cannot be imputed to the defendant, which is a factual question for the jury to consider.
The Appeals Court held that application of the continuing treatment doctrine will toll the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases so long as the patient remains in continuous treatment for the injury by the same physician or group, or under the general control of that physician or group, subject to the statute of repose – maintaining this relationship will benefit the patient by allowing and encouraging proper treatment of the injury (there is a compelling reason to continue to protect the physician-patient relationship even after the plaintiff arguably has actual knowledge of the harm: the patient could in good faith know that the physician has rendered poor treatment, but continue treatment in an effort to allow the physician to correct any consequences of the poor treatment).
The Appeals Court held that actual knowledge of harm should not bar application of the continuing treatment doctrine so long as the patient is continuing treatment in good faith and not solely to allow more time to develop their malpractice case.
Source William Parr vs. Daniel Rosenthal, No. 13-P-1150.
If you suffered harm as a result of medical negligence in Massachusetts, you should promptly find a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney who may investigate your Massachusetts medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Visit our website to submit a short, secure form, or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959, to be connected with Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyers, or medical malpractice lawyers in your U.S. state, who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.