Maryland Court Discusses Accrual of a Medical Malpractice Claim

When people visit the emergency department of a hospital, they anticipate that any conditions causing their symptoms will be accurately diagnosed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and a missed diagnosis can lead to years of complications and may be grounds for pursuing a medical malpractice claim. Recently, a Maryland court discussed when a claim arising out of a missed diagnosis begins to accrue in a matter in which the defendant argued the plaintiff’s claims were untimely. If you were injured by a missed diagnosis, it is wise to consult a Baltimore medical malpractice lawyer about your options.

Factual and Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff was involved in a severe car accident in January 2017. He was transported to the defendant’s hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fracture of the right femur. He had fractures of the second and third metatarsals as well, but they were not detected at that time. Numerous doctors took over his orthopedic care, none of whom detected the toe fractures until April 2017. Despite continued pain and difficulty bearing weight on his right foot, subsequent assessments failed to identify the metatarsal fractures as the underlying issue until February 2018. By January 2019, further imaging confirmed malunions of the metatarsal fractures, leading to discussions about potential surgical interventions.

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant, alleging negligence in failing to inform him of his metatarsal fractures, not communicating this information to subsequent providers, and not providing appropriate treatment. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the claims were time-barred, as they accrued more than three years before the second complaint. The plaintiff contested this, arguing that his claims didn’t accrue until January 2019 when a CT scan revealed malunions. The court granted summary judgment, prompting the plaintiff’s appeal.

Accrual of a Medical Malpractice Claim

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court ruling. The court explained that Maryland courts adhere to the “discovery rule,” which dictates that a claim accrues for statute of limitations purposes when the prospective plaintiff becomes aware of the injury forming the basis of the claim. Notice can be either express, through direct evidence or communication, or implied, known as inquiry notice, inferred from circumstances that should prompt a reasonable person to investigate further.

The determination of whether a plaintiff was on inquiry notice involves a two-step analysis: first, whether the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known of facts warranting further inquiry, and second, whether such investigation would reveal a causal connection between the injury and the alleged wrongdoing. This analysis is typically fact-dependent and left to the factfinder, but if there are no disputed material facts, it may be determined as a matter of law. For a claim to accrue under the discovery rule, the plaintiff must have notice of both the nature and cause of the injury. Symptoms alone usually do not suffice unless the patient also suspects negligence in their treatment. However, if an expert suggests past treatment may have been negligent, the patient may be deemed to be on inquiry notice as a matter of law.

In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff’s awareness of his symptoms alone did not establish his inquiry notice as a matter of law regarding his medical malpractice claim, as symptoms alone typically do not indicate sufficient knowledge of causation or wrongdoing. Additionally, the court rejected the argument that the plaintiff’s review of his medical records would have given him enough knowledge to prompt further investigation.

Ultimately, the court determined that there were genuine disputes about whether the plaintiff’s providers communicated relevant information to him and whether the information in his medical records would have led a reasonable person to investigate further. As such, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that there was a genuine dispute as to when the plaintiff was on inquiry notice about his claims, thereby rendering the statute of limitations issue improper for summary judgment.

Confer with a Skilled Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorney

A prompt and accurate diagnosis is an essential component of competent medical care. If you suffered harm due to a delayed or missed diagnosis, you have the right to seek damages for your losses, and you should confer with an attorney promptly. The skilled Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at Arfaa Law Group can inform you of your options and help you to seek a just outcome. To set up a meeting, you can reach us through our online form or by calling (410) 889-1850.

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