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What Happens When Medical Malpractice Is Not Discovered Until After the Patient Dies?


There are always legal deadlines that must be complied with in personal injury cases. When the clock starts to run on these deadlines, however, varies depending on the facts of a particular case. When it comes to something like medical malpractice, there is a one-year statute of limitations that starts to run on the day the alleged injury is “discovered.” In practice, this can be days or weeks after the actual act of malpractice if the patient is not immediately aware that something went wrong.

TN Court Reinstates Lawsuit Following Patient’s Misdiagnosis, Death

And what about a patient who dies before the misdiagnosis or malpractice is discovered? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. The victim went to a hospital emergency room in Memphis presenting with symptoms of “rib-trunk pain” and a headache. Hospital staff diagnosed the victim with dehydration and discharged him the same day. But the next day, an ambulance returned the victim to the same hospital after he was found “lethargic and unresponsive.” He died about a month later.

A postmortem autopsy revealed the victim died as the result of infection and acute inflammation of the gallbladder. The autopsy was prepared on June 18, 2014, four days after the victim’s death and several weeks after his initial emergency room visit. The autopsy was the first time the victim’s family learned his death was apparently the result of a misdiagnosis by the hospital.

The administrator of the victim’s estate subsequently filed a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and the doctor who performed the initial diagnosis. The defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging the administrator failed to comply with numerous legal deadlines for medical malpractice cases in Tennessee. This included the one-year statute of limitations, which the defendants maintained started to run on May 18, 2014, the day the victim returned to the hospital.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. As the appellate court explained, the “undisputed evidence” did not support the defense’s claim that the patient–i.e., the victim–knew of the malpractice on May 18. The hospital and the doctor may have known about it, but the law requires the victim have such knowledge as well. Absent evidence of such knowledge, the earliest that a malpractice claim could have accrued was June 18, when the family received the autopsy report confirming the defendants’ misdiagnosis. So the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue.

Speak With a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Time is always of the essence in a personal injury case. This is why it is critical to engage the services of a qualified Sevierville personal injury lawyer as soon as possible following an accident or the loss of a loved one. While many people are initially reluctant to engage an attorney, understand that legal deadlines will not wait for you to resolve your doubts. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, today if you need advice regarding any kind of personal injury claim.



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