Some of the most vulnerable patients to acts of medical malpractice are individuals who are presently incarcerated. Ohio prisons are legally obligated to provide medical care to inmates. Yet all too often, the standard of care applied by prison medical personnel proves to be inadequate–and in many cases, a prisoner may have a serious (or life-threatening) condition go untreated for years.

Dispute Over How to Calculate Four-Year Statute of Repose

This can present unique challenges when attempting to pursue a medical malpractice claim after the fact. Consider this recent decision by the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals, Bugh v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which involves a malpractice claim brought by a former prisoner. In this case, the plaintiff was in prison up until 2014. In 2008, the plaintiff “began to experience difficulty breathing.” He received treatment from doctors for both the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

It was not until after the plaintiff’s release from prison, however, that he actually learned the underlying cause of his respiratory problems. In November 2014, a Department of Veterans Affairs doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with “bilateral diaphragmatic paralysis caused by phrenic nerve damage.” In plain English, the plaintiff had a paralyzed diaphragm, which Cedars-Sinai describes as an “uncommon” condition where both sides of the patient’s diaphragm experiences “some amount of reduction in lung capacity.” Here, the plaintiff suffered “irreversible” damage to his breathing.

In May 2016, the plaintiff sued the ODRC, alleging the medical malpractice of its physicians led to this irreversible damage. According to expert witnesses retained by the plaintiff, medical staff should have provided the plaintiff with “spinal decompression” no later than early 2012, more than two years before his release from prison.

But the ODRC saw this timeframe as justification to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In a motion for summary judgment, the Department argued that the plaintiff’s claim fell outside Ohio’s statute of repose for medical malpractice claims. Under Ohio law, a malpractice lawsuit must be initiated within “four years after the occurrence of the act or omission constituting the alleged basis” of the claim. This means that even if the plaintiff did not discover the malpractice until after the four-year window expired, he would be out of luck.

The Ohio Court of Claims agreed with the Department that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of repose, since the prison doctors last saw the plaintiff in 2009, which was seven years before he filed his lawsuit. But the Tenth District reversed. It held that, viewing the plaintiff’s complaint in the light most favorable to his case, the plaintiff “remained a candidate for spinal decompression surgery” as late as July 2012. Since the plaintiff filed his lawsuit in May 2016, that fell within the four-year statute of repose, and he could therefore proceed with his claim.

Speak with a Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

Medical malpractice cases are never easy to win. That is why you need to work with an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorney. If you or someone you love has been harmed by a healthcare provider’s negligence, contact Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 308-1522 today.

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