In a recent case, a plaintiff filed suit against a doctor and a prenatal care center after her baby sustained an injury during birth. However, the case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed, and the court rejected the plaintiff’s “equitable tolling” argument.
The plaintiff, an Illinois resident, was pregnant and went to a health center for prenatal care. She attended 12 visits at the Will County Community Health Center in Joliet, Illinois. In September 2008, the plaintiff sought treatment at an emergency room after experiencing abdominal pain. The emergency room doctor decided to induce labor, and the plaintiff began to give birth. During the birth, the plaintiff’s daughter became stuck and sustained an injury to her arm. After birth, the baby was diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, a condition involving weakness of the arm due to an injury of the brachial plexus, a nerve cluster located in the shoulder. At the hospital, the baby’s arm was put in a sling due to the injury.
In May 2011, the plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the health center and the emergency room doctor. Under the Act, a claim must be filed within two years after it accrues. The court found that the claims against the emergency room doctor and the health center accrued sometime in September 2008, shortly after the birth. Since the mother experienced a difficult delivery, and the baby was diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, she had enough information to look into whether they caused the baby’s injury. Thus, the statute of limitations expired two years later, in September 2010.
The Doctrine of Equitable Tolling
Even though the statute of limitations had expired before the plaintiff filed suit, she argued that equitable tolling should apply. Equitable tolling is a principle that extends a statute of limitations in cases in which the plaintiff did not discover the injury until after the statute of limitations had passed. In this case, the court stated that equitable tolling is reserved for rare instances when a plaintiff was prevented from filing a complaint in time due to exceptional circumstances.
The court found that in this case, equitable tolling did not apply. First, the plaintiff did not diligently pursue the claim. She met with a lawyer within a few weeks of the birth, but she decided not to hire him because she did not think he was a good lawyer. Then, she did not pursue the case for almost a year. Second, after she did retain a lawyer and obtained her medical records in April 2010, her lawsuit was not filed until over a year later, in May 2011.
The plaintiff argued that she was prevented from filing her complaint on time because the health center where she received her care did not “reveal” its federal status as a public entity, which meant that she had to file under the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, the court said that the center did not hide its status. Instead, her lawyers did not adequately research the center’s status. The court also said that the plaintiff should have suspected that her doctor was affiliated with the health center, since the center was affiliated with the hospital where she gave birth, and her lawyers failed to research the issue. Thus, the court found that equitable tolling did not extend the statute of limitations in this case, since the plaintiff waited almost a year after the injury, and her lawyers did not adequately research the health center’s possible federal status.
Were You or Your Baby Injured During Birth?
If you believe you, your baby, or another family member received negligent care before, during, or after a birth, you may have a medical malpractice claim. The statute of limitations is a very important consideration, and you need to know when to file a claim. Even if the statute of limitations has passed, equitable tolling may apply if you were not fully aware of the injury or its cause. At Moll Law Group, we strive to provide diligent representation for families in Chicago and throughout Illinois. To learn more, fill out our free consultation form or call us at 312-462-1700.
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Illinois Protects Police with Partial Immunity in Police Misconduct Cases, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, January 16, 2016.