Statute of limitations held to bar medical malpractice action for failure to diagnose cancer

In Linton v. Evans, the Plaintiff, in an attempt to avoid the three year statute of limitations period, argued that limitations began to run when she learned that her cancer was "probably noncurable," rather than when she first learned she had cancer.

The plaintiff argued that her claim was timely filed on May 7, 2010, because she did not learn she had Stage 3C breast cancer until well after her surgery on May 8, 2007. The plaintiff further argued that, "The mere discovery of cancer is not a defining event for instituting a lawsuit. . . . It is only when the patient learns that the cancer has gone from more likely curable to probably noncurable that the necessary elements for a lawsuit have accrued." The United States District Court for the District of Maryland rejected that argument, finding that the Plaintiff misinterpreted Edmonds v. Cytology Servs., 681 A.2d 546 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1996).

In Edmunds, the Plaintiff did not show signs of cancer for several years after her medical providers failed to diagnose her cervical cancer. The Court was "faced with the proper interpretation of "injury," pursuant to Section 5-109(a)(1), which sets forth the five-year limitations period measured from "the time the injury was committed." The Court reasoned that that the five-year period in Section 5-109(a)(1) "begins to run when injury (or 'damages') first arises, and not when all damages resulting from the physician's negligence have arisen. . . [All] that is required for an inquiry to exist 'is that the negligent act be coupled with some harm.'" The Court further reasoned that it is reasonable to assume "injury" means the same whether it applies to the five year or three year statutory period.

In Linton, the plaintiff knew that a lump under her arm was cancerous as of April 11, 2007, and knew she had breast cancer no later than April 25, 2007. Either of these events satisfied the discovery rule. Yet, she failed to file suit until May 7, 2010, outside of the three year statute of limitations.

The Court concluded as follows:

To the extent that the Edmonds opinion has precedential value for this case, it clearly does not turn on when the patient learned the specific stage of her cancer, and it would be a mistake to read into that case such an interpretation. Rather, the case was determined to warrant further fact-finding in order to measure when the patient first sustained "injury." Applying the Edmonds standard to this case does not afford Linton relief. It can reasonably be said that injury or damage first arose when she was diagnosed with cancer in April 2007 because that was "some harm."

Categories: Maryland