According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a Statute of Limitations is defined as a time frame set by legislation where affected parties need to take action to enforce rights or seek redress after injury of damage. Put another way, a claimant does not have until the end of time to pursue a cause of action for injury or damages sustained by that person. The result would be catastrophic as evidence erodes over time, memories fade, and the ability to effectively pursue a claim diminishes with each passing day. As a result, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has set standards by which a claimant can pursue certain causes of action. These standards limit the time in which a person may file his or her claim in the proper court.
While various areas of the law have different statutes of limitations attached to them, under Massachusetts General Laws C. 260, § 2A:
“Except as otherwise provided, actions of tort, actions of contract to recover for personal injuries, and actions of replevin, shall be commenced only within three years next after the cause of action accrues.”
This three year statute of limitations, articulated by the legislature of Massachusetts, extends to personal injury cases, medical malpractice cases, and negligence cases that result in death (Wrongful Death cases). Generally, the statute begins to ‘tick’ at the time of the injury suffered by the claimant. There are however certain exceptions to the three year statute. For instance, in some situations an individual does not know that he or she has been injured. As a result, it would be unfair for the clock to begin ‘ticking’ at a point when the individual is oblivious to the harm he or she suffered. The courts have carved out an exception to deal with this very situation. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals has held that, “if the action is based on an inherently unknowable wrong, it accrues when the injured party knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of the factual basis.” Gore v. Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, Inc., 17 Mass.App.Ct. 645 (1984).
As illustration, a Plaintiff brought suit against a Defendant Physician and Hospital alleging that after going to the hospital for oral surgery, he complained of chest pain and an X-ray was ordered. Two days later he was discharged from the Defendant hospital. In the discharge report it was noted that the X-ray was normal. However, the X-ray department noted that further evaluation was recommended due to a “mediastinal widening.” This was never communicated to the Plaintiff. Approximately four years later, the Plaintiff returned to the Hospital where an X-ray revealed Hodgkin’s disease. Plaintiff brought suit alleging that the original X-ray, four years earlier, revealed an early manifestation of Hodgkin’s disease, and that the Defendants’ failure to report correctly and evaluate the X-ray amounted to medical malpractice.
The Defendants asked the Court to dismiss the case as more than three years had run from the date of injury (the failure to report the original X-ray). Defendants argued that the Plaintiff was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court found in favor of the Plaintiff and refused to dismiss the case. The Court held that the Plaintiff was unaware of his condition when he left the hospital and remained unaware for four and a half years. The Court further held, “we cannot say, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff reasonably should have learned any earlier of the harm to him, which presumably occurred as soon as he was left unnecessarily in ignorance as a result of the defendants’ conduct.” The Plaintiff was within the statute of limitations because the time began ‘ticking’ when he reasonably should have known of his injury… when he went to the hospital four years later. To read more on this case, please see: Franklin v. Albert, 381 Mass. 611.
Statute of Limitations issues are important to any cause of action. While the statute begins to run when the injury or damage occurs, some times a person is not aware of the injury that has occurred to them. As such, there are situations where the statute begins to run when a person should reasonably have learned of his or her injury. If you believe you have a claim for personal injury or medical malpractice our office can help you determine when the statute of limitations runs in your case. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.