The Massachusetts Appeals Court stated in its opinion filed on March 1, 2022 in a Massachusetts medical malpractice case alleging the failure of the defendants to advise the plaintiff that she had multiple sclerosis (MS) years earlier: “The repose provision of G. L. c. 260, § 4, reflects a legislative determination that an absolute time limit is appropriate in medical malpractice actions despite those conflicting values. Its clear language, as supported by its history and purpose, permits no conclusion other than that the Legislature intended to extinguish malpractice claims seven years after negligent acts or omissions even when a doctor’s treatment of, or responsibility for, a condition continued beyond the alleged negligence.”
The Underlying Facts
In 2011, Plaintiff Joan Moran was experiencing headaches. On October 14, 2011, she sought treatment for her headaches from the defendants. The defendants ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to determine the cause of her headaches. On October 25, 2011, the MRI was conducted. Two days later, based on the MRI, a radiologist wrote a report which indicated that Moran likely had multiple sclerosis. The radiologist sent the report to the defendants on the same day.
On November 14, 2011, Moran had a follow-up appointment with the defendants, but none of them advised her that she needed to be monitored, or receive treatment, for multiple sclerosis. Similar inaction occurred at Moran’s later appointments in January, March, and June of 2012. Throughout this time, Moran continued to exhibit symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
At her June 11, 2012 appointment, Moran was advised to follow up in four months; however, she did not return to see the defendants at that time. Moran was last seen by the defendants in July of 2013, at which time she was prescribed migraine medication.
In September of 2019, Moran saw a neurologist who diagnosed her with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis. Between October 2012 and the present, Moran’s condition has deteriorated significantly due to lack of proper treatment. As a result of the delayed diagnosis and treatment, Moran has suffered significant injury. Moran filed her Massachusetts medical malpractice complaint on October 7, 2019.
Massachusetts Statute Of Repose
Massachusetts General Laws c. 260, § 4, second paragraph, provides: “Actions of contract or tort for malpractice, error or mistake against physicians, surgeons . . . hospitals and sanitoria shall be commenced only within three years after the cause of action accrues, but in no event shall any such action be commenced more than seven years after occurrence of the act or omission which is the alleged cause of the injury upon which such action is based except where the action is based upon the leaving of a foreign object in the body.”
Massachusetts Appeals Court Opinion
The Massachusetts Appeals Court stated: “the act or omission which is the alleged cause of Moran’s injury, i.e., the “definitely established event,” was the failure to inform her of, and treat her for, the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in October of 2011. That failure, which persisted for almost two years after multiple appointments, arises from the initial failure to inform her of the MRI results and to treat her accordingly, which was the negligence alleged in the complaint. Moran labors hard to claim the defendants’ actions within the repose period are separate acts or omissions constituting negligence; however, such acts are nothing more than the defendants’ acts of continuing treatment.”
The Massachusetts Appeals Court held: “Moran’s claim is without merit because the negligence alleged in the complaint is that the defendants neither advised her that she needed to be monitored for her progressive multiple sclerosis, nor did they set in motion a plan for responsible care and treatment of her condition by a multiple sclerosis specialist. This was the entirety of her claim, and the treatment within the seven-year period was not alleged to be separate acts of negligence, but merely acts of continued treatment. Even if we generously read the complaint to have alleged separate acts of negligence, that reading would nonetheless be eclipsed by the fact that the “definitely established event” of the MRI occurred nearly eight years before the complaint was filed.”
“As the Supreme Judicial Court has concluded in the past, the operation of a statute of repose can lead to harsh results … Even where a possibly meritorious claim will go unredressed by operation of the statute of repose, that is a policy decision the Legislature has made … The principles of judicial restraint embodied in art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declarations of Rights prohibits us from revisiting and altering that policy choice.”
Source Moran v. Benson, No. 21-P-352.