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Time Is of the Essence in Tennessee Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice is often difficult for a victim to discover. The effects of a physician’s negligence may not be immediately obvious, and in many cases, a patient may not learn about the problem until years after the fact. This can pose a challenge when filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under Tennessee law, a patient must file a lawsuit within one year of the negligent act; but if the patient only learns of his or her injury after that one-year period expires, a claim may still be brought within “one year from the date of such discovery.”

Layperson” Plaintiff Not Expected to Correct His Own Misdiagnosis

The date of discovery is not necessarily the point at which a patient first suspects there may be a problem. The context is critical. For instance, in a recent Tennessee case, a man was incorrectly diagnosed with a medical condition by an emergency room physician. The patient actually had a completely different condition. The patient subsequently sued for malpractice, alleging the delay in receiving the correct diagnosis led him to suffer “permanent and irreparable spinal cord damage.” The doctor moved to dismiss, claiming the plaintiff waited too long to file his lawsuit.

The defendant misdiagnosed the plaintiff on September 8, 2012. The plaintiff said he did not learn of the misdiagnosis until “mid-October” of that same year. The trial judge ultimately decided the plaintiff had to have known of his misdiagnosis no later than October 5, 2012. This meant the claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations because the plaintiff did not notify the defendant of his intent to sue until October 7, 2013.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals disagreed. The appeals court said at the very least there was a “genuine issue of material fact” regarding exactly when the plaintiff “discovered” the misdiagnosis. The October 5 discovery date was based on the testimony of a nurse who said the plaintiff told her that he was being treated for an “abscess” unrelated to the initial misdiagnosis. But the plaintiff testified he thought the abscess was part of the condition that the defendant said he had. It was not until the plaintiff saw a different doctor in mid-October that he learned the truth.

The Court of Appeals noted that while “there is no requirement of diagnosis of the actual injury by another medical professional” in determining when a plaintiff discovered an alleged act of malpractice, in this case it was “reasonable” for the plaintiff, as a “layperson” who was not himself a medical professional, “to conclude that his symptoms and the treatments given were related to the [defendant’s incorrect] diagnosis until such time as he was informed otherwise.” Accordingly, the plaintiff could proceed with his case and let the jury decide exactly when he learned of the defendant’s negligence.

Get Help from a Clinton Personal Injury Lawyer

Time is of the essence in personal injury cases. That is why if you are contemplating any type of negligence lawsuit, you should speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton if you need to speak with someone right away.

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