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Emotional Distress, Milton Hospital, and the Statute of Limitations

It can be difficult to learn that the system can’t provide you justice. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a pretty good one, and most injuries which occur as a result of someone else’s negligence or intention are recoverable. We want it to be that way--as a society, we want people to be able to be made whole, as close as possible to the condition they were in before the incident or accident happened.

We also have an interest in resolving disputes within a reasonable period of time after the incident first occurs. There are several reasons for this. We need all parties involved to be able to gather evidence in support of their respective position. If you wait years down the road to initiate the process, all the evidence that was available at the outset may be damaged, lost, or destroyed. We also don’t want issues festering forever unresolved, or for one party to eternally hold the injury over the head of another.

On the other hand, it commonly does legitimately take some time to assess damages. This is particularly the case in personal injury matters, because the damages are directly related to the recovery. A case in which the injured party makes a full recovery tends to have less damages than a case in which the injured does not fully recover and, instead, is stuck with a permanent impairment. Time is also a factor. If recovery takes two months, the medical bills, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment damages would tend to be less than a recovery that takes two years.

The system works best when the claim is identified immediately after the incident--meaning, the person damaged pretty much immediately recognizes that he or she is entitled to recover damages. It may take time to treat injuries and assess damages, then more time to initiate a non-litigation or pre-litigation negotiation. But, the injured party needs to be conscious of the statute of limitations, as that’s generally the deadline for filing litigation: Miss it, and you are probably done. There are few and very narrow exceptions which you should not rely upon without the counsel and direction of a competent personal injury or torts lawyer.

The statute of limitations is different depending on the cause of action, and this recently well covered by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in the unpublished opinion of LaPlant v. Milton Hospital (LaPLante). In LaPlante, we have a very interesting situation with an interesting plaintiff. The basic facts of the case are as follows.

LaPlante was a Marist Priest and was admitted to Milton Hospital in September 2005 to treat normal pressure hydrocephalus, a neurological condition. I should note now that all the facts I’m laying out here are from his complaint, as this appeal came out of a motion to dismiss (which was granted) for missing the statute of limitations. So, they’re technically all alleged facts of the plaintiff. That said, he also alleged that he executed a health care proxy, naming a friend, Susan Gallagher, on September 5, 2005, witnessed by a hospital employee. Next, he contended that the hospital discharged him into the custody of his fellow Marist Priest brothers, against his wishes and without consulting Gallagher. He argues that the hospital’s failure to honor his health care proxy amounts to extreme and outrageous conduct and that he is entitled to damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, medical malpractice, and under 93A, arguing it was an unfair and deceptive act.

LaPlante filed his complaint in April 2012, well beyond the 3 year statute of limitations for intentional infliction of emotional distress, 3 year statute of limitations for medical malpractice, and 4 year statute of limitations for the 93A action. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on those points and the action was dismissed on its face, denying the defendant’s request for fees and costs. LaPlante argued an exception: the discovery rule. That exception claims that the statute tolled (meaning that it was delayed) because it was not possible for the plaintiff to discover the facts supporting the action. The court disagreed, essentially because there were several other facts indicating there was a dispute regarding the hospital’s action at the outset and that Gallagher allegedly was coerced to agree to the discharge.

There are exceptions to the statute of limitations rule for very very narrow reasons and almost always, the statute of limitations governs. So, if you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you are best served by calling a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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