Statute of Limitations: Grgac v. Dash

Kopec Law Firm

Callers frequently ask us what the statute of limitations date is for their Maryland medical malpractice case. The statute of limitations is the deadline by which the Maryland medical malpractice lawyer must file the case. In this blog post, I discuss a recent case, then explain more about the statute of limitations and provide some recommendations for Maryland medical malpractice lawyers.

On November 14, 2023, the Appellate Court of Maryland issued an unreported opinion in Grgac v. Dash, applying the medical malpractice statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for negligence claims against health care providers is in section 5-109(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code. The action must be filed within the earlier of: (1) Five years of the time the injury was committed and (2) Three years of the date the injury was discovered. The action is filed when submitted to the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office. (Op. at 1).

Grgac Facts

After having periodic numbness in her hands, the plaintiff got an MRI and consulted with the defendant doctor on November 25, 2008. The doctor believed that the plaintiff was likely suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. He felt the MRI only revealed bulging discs in her spine. (Id. at 2).

In 2010, the plaintiff experienced problems with balance and word pronunciation. Those symptoms resolved, but then she had severe pain in her neck and right arm. She got another MRI and consulted with Dr. Dash on November 12, 2010. The plaintiff was concerned that she might have multiple sclerosis. (Id. at 2-3). 

The doctor believed that the bulging of the disc had become more severe and was the likely cause of her symptoms. He also noted that a single right subcortical white matter dot was not clinically significant. (Id. at 3).

The plaintiff continued to experience various physical symptoms periodically. On December 19, 2017, the plaintiff was diagnosed with MS. Her symptoms became worse through 2018, necessitating a career change. On December 17, 2020, the plaintiff filed a medical negligence claim against the defendants in HCADRO, alleging that the doctor had failed to diagnose MS in 2008. The case was transferred to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. (Id. at 3-4).

The plaintiff’s expert doctor attributed most of the symptoms in 2008 to MS. Also, the 2011 MRI showed additional lesions. (Id. at 4). 

The defendants argue that the plaintiff’s complaint was time-barred by the five-year period because she was injured no later than 2011 but filed her claim in 2020 (Id. at 6).

Court’s Decision

The Court noted some principles in applying the statute of limitations. It stated that “injury” occurs when the alleged negligent act was first coupled with harm. The five-year period runs without regard to whether the injury was reasonably discoverable. (Id. at 9). The Court concluded that the failure to diagnose injured the plaintiff no later than 2011. (Id. at 15).

Explanation of the Statute of Limitations and Recommendations

As the discussion above shows, it can be complicate to apply applying the statute of limitations. While Grgac focused on the five-year part of the statute, I will look more broadly at the whole law.

The starting point is that you have three years from discovering the injury. You have to be careful with the notion of discovery. Other Maryland cases expand on that concept. Discovery can occur before you know all the facts. 

I recommend consulting with a medical malpractice lawyer when you have a bad medical outcome or have any concerns about potential medical malpractice. Do not put off the consultation until you get more information about your injury or until the doctor attempts to treat the injury. 

The five-year period can be harsh in application. This part of the statute cuts off further time to discover the injury. Another way of saying it is you have three years from discovering the injury but at most five years from it.

In Grgac, a doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with MS in 2017. (Id. at 3). The Court found the plaintiff’s injury by the defendant misreading the MRI occurred by 2011 at the latest. Therefore, the application of the five-year period barred the plaintiff’s claim before she even found out she had MS. That is a harsh result. Note that the Maryland General Assembly created the five-year period. The Court just applied it.

Get a Second Medical Opinion

The Grgac case also highlights the importance of getting a second opinion. In 2010, the plaintiff had symptoms of MS. The MRI showed an abnormality in her brain, but the defendant doctor thought it was not significant. (Id.) 

We do not know the doctor’s qualifications or how convincing he was in dismissing the brain finding. So, we cannot criticize the plaintiff for failing to take the MRI to another doctor for a second opinion. However, I do wonder what would have happened if she had. Would she have received an MS diagnosis sooner to allow treatment of her early symptoms before the disease progressed? If not, would she have received the diagnosis in time to bring a claim within five years?

To ask your questions about Maryland’s medical malpractice statute of limitations, contact us at 800-604-0704 to speak directly with Mark Kopec for a free consultation. He is a top-rated Maryland medical malpractice lawyer. Thank you for reading the Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog.

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