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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 all injuries which occur as a result of someone else’s negligence or intention, are recoverable. We want it 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 had the incident or accident not happened.

We also have an interest in resolving disputes within a reasonable period of time after the incident first occurs. There are several reasons. 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 great 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 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 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 limitations because that’s generally the deadline for filing a 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 competent personal injury or torts lawyer.

The statute of limitations is different depending on the cause of action and they were recently well covered by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in the unpublished opinion of LaPlant v. Milton Hospital (LaPLante).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 is 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 alleges he executed a health care proxy, naming a friend, Susan Gallagher, on September 5, 2005, witnessed by a hospital employee. Next, he contends 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 it’s face, denying the defendant’s request for fees and costs. LaPlante argued an exception - the discovery rule. That is, the statute tolled (meaning that it was delayed) because it was not possible for the LaPlante 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.

Okay, so if you know me, you know that I enjoy getting to know the parties involved in case law better. So, I did some background research online (as I always do). From my review of this article: it appears more clear why LaPlante was so upset. It appears to be a third party’s discussion of LaPlante and Gallagher, maybe by a follower in the church. It alleges that when LaPlante was put in the custody of his priest brothers, they put him on a medication that allegedly would hurt or kill him and they cleaned out his charitable bank accounts of over $250,000. There’s really no way to verify the truth without further investigation (I kind of draw the line here) so we’ll have to just leave it at maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t. The article does indicate that Gallagher had previously protested outside at least one other hospital on the position of pro life and this other article: discusses that Gallagher and LaPlante (91 years old in 2011) protested against his church brothers at a Weymouth cemetary. They seem like a vocal couple and perhaps they investigated a cause of action prior to the statute of limitations running, but, like in most every case, when it runs, the legal rights disappear. Until next time!

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