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U.S. Court of Appeals Holds that Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Actions are Not Tolled due to Legal Incompetency

A recent decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that legally incompetent individuals are not afforded the ability to toll the Statute of Limitation in civil actions related to medical malpractice cases. The legally incompetent—such as minors and the mentally disabled—are not generally subject to the standard statute of limitations in civil actions because they are often unable to bring a lawsuit at the time an action arises. So, for example, the statute does not begin to run until a minor reaches majority or when a mentally incapacitated plaintiff comes out of their disability. However, the recent Eleventh Circuit decision in Deen v. Egleston has upheld a Georgia law, mandating that the Statute of limitations in medical malpractice action is not tolled due to mental incapacity.

Kenneth Deen went to a dentist on July 18, 2005 suffering with a toothache. He was examined and referred to an endontist. Upon visiting the endontist, Mr. Deen was advised he had an infected tooth, requiring antibiotics and root canal. The root canal was scheduled and Mr. Deen’s dentist was advised of such, however nobody at the dental office marked the scheduled root canal in Mr. Deen’s chart. Mr. Deen returned to the dentist on August 4, 2005, prior to the root canal, and was given an extensive deep cleaning, known as a debridement.

Around this time, Mr. Deen began having headaches, which he attributed to the back problems he was also experiencing. He underwent testing on his back and some procedures intended to alleviate the headaches, but the headaches continued to worsen. Mr. Deen became progressively worse and was eventually rushed to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a subdural empyema, or swelling of the brain. Numerous procedures were performed in an attempt to reduce the swelling, but it was not until doctors decided to remove the infected tooth that the swelling began to recede. At that point, Mr. Deen had already experienced serious and permanent brain damage.

On August 13, 2007, Mr. Deen’s wife, Linda, filed a lawsuit against his treating physicians and the hospital where he was treated. It was through the process of discovery that Mrs. Deen first learned that the cause of her husband’s condition was most likely the infected tooth. More specifically, Mr. Deen’s dentist should not have allowed the debridement to be performed until the infection had been removed, as doing so allowed the infection to enter his bloodstream more quickly.

On March 21, 2008, Mrs. Deen sued the dentist based on the information she had discovered. Counsel for the dentist filed a Motion for Summary Judgment alleging plaintiff’s complaint was barred by the two-year Statute of Limitations, as any malpractice would have occurred on either July 18, or August 4, 2005. The District Court held the Georgia law, which only tolls the Statue of Limitations in medical malpractice actions where they arise under the foreign object rule, it is brought by an estate which was previously unrepresented, or under the rules of contribution, unconstitutional. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court’s ruling, holding that Georgia’s law is rationally related to the purpose of health care and tort reform.

Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice is professional negligence, by act or omission, by a health care provider in which care provided deviates from accepted standards of practice in the medical community and causes injury or death to the patient. Malpractice lawsuits are complex in nature and are often difficult to prove. Medical malpractice affects the quality of life for not only the victim, but the victim’s family, friends and loved ones. The lawyers at www.pamedicalmalpracticeattorney.com are experienced and successful in the area of medical malpractice lawsuits. For a free and confidential consultation, please visit www.pamedicalmalpracticeattorney.com and fill out our “Get Help Now” section.

 
     
 

Gavin P. Lentz, Esq.
Bochetto & Lentz

Gavin Lentz (right) was selected as a "Super Lawyer" for 2006-2009 in New Jersey by Philadelphia Magazine. He has also been selected as a "Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine and the Legal Intelligencer in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

On September 16, 2002 Mr. Lentz was selected as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania by the Legal Intelligencer.

He has made many television appearances, including on Fox News, The Today Show, Inside Edition, and The Phil Donahue Show.

Mr. Lentz is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

As a former prosecutor, he knows how to aggressively go after hospitals and physicians to prove the facts necessary to protect your loved one's rights.

 
     
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