The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department (“New York Appellate Court”), in its opinion dated December 4, 2019, discussed the application of the continuous treatment doctrine in a New York medical malpractice case and held in a split-decision that the plaintiffs’ New York medical malpractice suicide case was timely filed.
A New York medical malpractice action “must be commenced within two years and six months of the act, omission or failure complained of or last treatment where there is continuous treatment for the same illness, injury or condition which gave rise to the said act, omission or failure” (CPLR 214-a).
The Underlying Facts
In August 2014, the plaintiffs’ decedent was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric unit at the defendant Nassau University Medical Center after staff there determined that she was at a high risk of self harm as well as harm to others. She was discharged after nine days and instructed to attend group counseling sessions.
On November 20, 2014, the decedent met with the defendant Edgar Gerstein in his private psychiatric practice. The defendant’s medical records refer to a diagnosis and indicate that another appointment was scheduled for December 11, 2014. On the day following her appointment, the defendant spoke to the decedent and informed her that she should be treated by a full-time practitioner and that he only worked part-time. The defendant claims that he attempted to cancel the December 11, 2014 follow-up appointment, but the cancellation did not occur. On November 24, 2014, the decedent committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving train.
On May 24, 2017, the plaintiffs commenced their New York medical malpractice suicide case to recover damages for medical malpractice against the defendant, among others. The defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the first and fourth causes of action, which alleged medical malpractice, insofar as asserted against him as time-barred. The plaintiffs opposed the motion and cross-moved for leave to serve a second amended complaint asserting the continuous treatment doctrine.
In an order entered February 16, 2018, the Supreme Court of the State of New York granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment with regard to the first and fourth causes of action insofar as asserted against him as time-barred, and denied the plaintiffs’ cross motion for leave to serve a second amended complaint. The plaintiffs subsequently appealed.
New York Appellate Court Opinion
Continuous Treatment Doctrine
Under the continuous treatment doctrine, the period of limitations does not begin to run until the end of the course of treatment if three conditions are met: (1) the patient continued to seek, and in fact obtained, an actual course of treatment from the defendant physician during the relevant period; (2) the course of treatment was for the same conditions or complaints underlying the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim; and (3) the treatment is continuous. To satisfy the requirement that treatment is continuous, further treatment must be explicitly anticipated by both the physician and the patient, as demonstrated by a regularly scheduled appointment for the near future. However, a discharge by a physician does not preclude application of the continuous treatment toll if the patient timely initiates a return visit to complain about and seek further treatment for conditions related to the earlier treatment.
In the case it was deciding, the New York Appellate Court stated the question is whether the statute of limitations began to run on November 20, 2014, when the decedent met with the defendant for a medical appointment, or November 24, 2014, when she died. The New York Appellate Court stated that the New York Supreme Court “concluded that the limited interactions between the defendant and the decedent failed to give rise to a continuing trust and confidence between them upon which the court could conclude that the decedent anticipated further treatment. However, since a further appointment was scheduled and was not cancelled—further treatment of some sort was anticipated, or there is at least a triable issue of fact on that issue … Accordingly, those branches of the defendant’s motion which were for summary judgment dismissing the first and fourth causes of action insofar as asserted against the defendant as time-barred should have been denied, and we remit the matter to the Supreme Court, Nassau County, for a new determination with respect to the plaintiffs’ cross motion consistent herewith.”
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in New York, you should promptly find a New York medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a New York medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.