Court Addresses Fraud Exception for Tolling Statute of Limitations in Georgia Medical Malpractice Case

In a recent opinion, the Court of Appeals of Georgia addressed the state’s fraud exception for tolling the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases. Evidently, a woman appealed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of a hospital. The woman appealed on the basis that the statute of limitations should not bar her claim because the hospital engaged in fraud.

According to the court’s opinion, the woman’s husband was experiencing abdominal pain and was transported to a hospital. During his stay, a doctor ordered a CT scan, and he underwent several other tests and examinations. The hospital did not administer the CT scan until four days after the initial physician’s order. The CT scan revealed that the man was suffering from a colon perforation, and he required two surgeries. During the last operation, physicians discovered that his condition was terminal, and he passed away several hours later.

The man’s wife filed a lawsuit about four years later against the hospital, alleging that the hospital was negligent in caring for and treating her husband. The hospital moved to dismiss the case based on the state’s statute of limitations. Georgia law requires that medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years after the date of the incident giving rise to the action occurs. In most cases arising from negligent treatment or misdiagnosis, the statute of limitations begins running at the time of the misdiagnosis or negligent treatment.

The woman amended her complaint and argued that the statute of limitations should be tolled because of the fraud exception. The statute of limitations in Georgia medical malpractice may be tolled if the defendant engaged in fraud that deterred the plaintiff from pursuing their action. In those cases, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time the plaintiff discovered the fraud. However, plaintiffs cannot assert this right if they knew of the facts necessary to bring the claim before the period began to run.

The plaintiff argued that that the hospital knew and failed to inform the family that the man’s injury was caused because of the hospital’s negligence in failing to adequately work-up, evaluate, and treat his bowel condition. The hospital countered that the plaintiff could not allege the discovery of fraud at an unspecified date. Additionally, the hospital argued that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence of fraud. The appeals court ultimately found in favor of the defendant, reasoning that the plaintiff was unable to provide proof that the hospital intended to conceal or make false representations of the man’s condition. Therefore, their lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations.

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