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Maryland Court of Special Appeals Application of the Common Law “Discovery Rule” to Revive Plaintiff’s Time-Barred Medical Malpractice Suit: Sigethy v. Klepper, et al.

August 5, 2020

Deborah Sigethy (“Plaintiff”) brought a medical malpractice suit against Defendant doctor alleging negligence and failure to obtain informed consent after Defendant performed a hip-replacement surgery on Plaintiff in 2010. The Plaintiff complained of worsening pain after the procedure and on December 6, 2010, sought a second opinion, which recommended revision surgery. Plaintiff filed suit over three years after her initial consultation with the doctor. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on statute of limitations grounds, arguing that it was indisputable that Plaintiff was on inquiry notice of her claim against Defendant no later than the date of her meeting with the doctor. Defendant argued the three-year statute of limitations started running at that point.

The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based upon the court’s conclusion that Plaintiff was on inquiry notice of her claim no later than December 6, 2010, which meant the claim was barred by the applicable three year statute of limitations. Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the court noted that in the field of medicine, an unsuccessful result alone does not necessarily establish negligence on the part of the health care provider. To establish a claim of medical “injury,” a plaintiff must prove not only a bad result, but also breach of the standard of care that was a proximate cause of the bad result.

Defendant argued that the date by which Plaintiff was on notice that something was wrong which warranted further investigation of a potential claim for medical malpractice was on December 6, 2010, when she first saw the consulting doctor. Plaintiff argued that her three-year deadline for filing a claim against Defendant should be measured from January 7, 2011, the date on which she opened a letter from her insurance company advising that there had been a recall of certain prosthetic hip components, and it was likely that she had received one of the recalled components when Defendant performed her hip replacement in April 2010.

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland disagreed with Defendant and reversed the circuit court’s judgment. The court held that Plaintiff did not suspect malpractice on the part of Defendant until after she read the recall notice.