Santana-Concepcion v. Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc.: On the Discovery Rule in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Santana-Concepcion v. Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc., a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, involved a plaintiff who was a registered nurse. She had a head CT (CAT scan), which revealed a large arachnoid cyst. An arachnoid cyst is fluid-filled membrane sac that forms between the base of the brain and the spinal chord.

mri-head-scan-370098-m.jpgAfter being diagnosed with the cyst, her doctors told her that surgery was not necessary. Later that same year, she experienced extreme pain and went to a local emergency room. She was referred to a neurosurgeon who recommended surgery to remove the cyst and medicine to reduce the intracranial pressure. The surgeon told her that it was a matter of life or death.

Plaintiff told the surgeon to do whatever he needed (including the placement of a shunt) as long as she wouldn’t be in any more pain. This occurred while she was on vacation in Puerto Rico.

Our Anderson medical malpractice attorneys understand that the average patient has very little knowledge about the risks associated with medical procedures and therefore rely upon their doctors to tell them of all the things that could go wrong, so that an informed decision can be made.

When she returned home and saw the original doctor who first diagnosed the condition, he noted that she no longer had any pain but was having trouble with her gait, balance, and vision, and was constantly being told that she was speaking too loud.

The following month, she was back in the hospital with pain and other problems. The neurosurgeon recommended removing the shunt, because it was not helping to reduce the size of the cyst and was causing behavioral changes. Her doctor also told her that whoever implanted the shunt was a butcher.

At this point, plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the doctor who performed the first surgery, alleging that he had failed to warn plaintiff of the risks associated with the shunt surgery. Her claim was dismissed as being time barred.

On appeal, the court look at the issue of whether the discovery rule prevented her claim from being time barred. In the local court, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims was one year from the date of injury. The federal court will follow the local government rule for the statute of limitations.

The discovery rule states that a cause of action does not arise until the injury is first discovered. A classic example of the discovery rule can be seen in cases where a surgeon leaves a surgical instrument or sponge in the patient and then closes the wound. Over time, the medical instrument causes damage and the patient goes to the hospital. This can be years later. Even though the negligent conduct happened during the surgery, it was not discoverable by the patient until he or she started having symptoms. In this situation, the discovery rule would cause the statute of limitations to start running when the patient first learned that the surgeon failed to remove an object.

In this case, the court of appeals found that plaintiff first learned of a problem when she started experiencing problems after the shunt was implanted and waited too long after that to file a claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of her cause of action.

Contact our Anderson personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Santana-Concepcion v. Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc
, September 23, 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
More Blog Entries:

Gallant v. MacDowell: Medical Malpractice and the Discovery Rule, June 29, 2014, North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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