Gallant v. MacDowell: Medical Malpractice and the Discovery Rule

Our North Carolina personal injury attorneys understand the importance of filing a case within the time permitted by the statue to limitations.

dentist-mold.jpgGallant, et al. v. MacDowell is a dental malpractice personal injury case appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia. In Gallant, the plaintiff was referred to two dentists by another dentist. One of the dentists was Dr. Gallant, who specialized in prosthetics. The other was an oral surgeon, Dr. Ann Winston. Both dentists were hired to work together to perform a full prosthodontic restoration.

While both dentists maintained separate practices, they worked together as a team to perform the services for MacDowell. Dr. Winston was supposed to extract specific teeth from the plaintiff’s mouth and set implants for Dr. Gallant to use in the restoration implant. During the course of the treatment, Dr. Gallant determined that Dr. Winston had improperly placed the implants.

One course of treatment to correct the problem would be to have the implants removed and reset. According to testimony, Gallant did not inform MacDowell of the problem and decided on his own to just leave the implants where they were and do what he could with the restoration problem. MacDowell started to experience problems with her new teeth, and complained to her dentists. Dr. Winston blamed the problem on the prosthetics, whereas Dr. Gallant blamed the problem on the improperly placed implants.

After seeing another dentist for an opinion, MacDowell filed a dental malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Gallant. Dr. Gallant filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the statute of limitations had expired. MacDowell argued that Dr. Gallant’s fraudulent concealment of the problem with the implants tolled the statute of limitations. This means that MacDowell could not learn about the problem until much later because Dr. Gallant hid the problem from her, and so the statute of limitations should be paused until she actually discovered the problem.

Dr. Gallant, through counsel, asserted that under Georgia law, once a patient sees another doctor for an opinion, the statute of limitations starts running even if it had been previously tolled. Dr. Gallant further asserted that since MacDowell saw Dr. Winston, the statute of limitations would run from that point pursuant to state law.

On appeal, the court held that since both dentists were working together in a common treatment plan, Dr. Winston could not be considered an independent doctor with whom the plaintiff sought consultation–especially given the fact that it Dr. Winston who actually installed the implants alleged to be improperly placed. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims is three years after the date of injury or one year after discovery if the injury could not reasonably have been discovered during the three-year period. This is what is personal injury lawyers refer to as the discovery rule.

As was the case in Gallant, there are often injuries that the plaintiff cannot feasibly discover until after the statute of limitations has run. For example, if you undergo a surgical procedure and the doctor does something in a negligent manner, you may appear fine following the procedure. It may be years before the problem worsens to the point where it is discovered. Under our legal system, the injury occurred at the time of surgery. If more than three years have passed since surgery, the statute of limitations would prevent you from suing the doctor for medical malpractice. However, since you could not reasonably have found the problem until years later, the discovery rule gives you one year from that point to file a negligence action in court.

Contact the Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Gallant v. MacDowell, June 16, 2014, Georgia Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:

Kelly v. Haralampopoulos – Exception to Hearsay Rule in Medical Malpractice Claims
, June 29, 2014, North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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