By C. Reynolds LeBlanc
La. R.S. 9:5628 provides that a patient/medical malpractice plaintiff must assert his or her claim within one year of the alleged negligent act or from when that act is discovered. If a claim is not raised within this time frame, it is “prescribed,” i.e., untimely. The statute also declares that all claims must be asserted within three years of the alleged negligent act, even if the patient was unaware of the malpractice. However, there are exceptions.
Under the doctrine of contra non valentem, prescription does not run if the defendant has done something to prevent the plaintiff from filing within the prescriptive period. In In re Medical Review Panel of Gerard Lindquist, 18-444 (La. App. 5 Cir. 5/23/19), 274 So.3d 750, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit considered whether a decision not to tell a patient about malpractice exempted from prescription a claim which was not filed within three years of the alleged malpractice.
In the case, Lindquist had spinal surgery on August 22, 2013. He returned on August 24, 2013 with complaints of pain. Although an x-ray showed a metal artifact in the operative site of his back, he was not informed and was discharged. He returned the next day with continued complaints of pain and an MRI was ordered. Like the x-ray, the MRI showed the metal artifact. Again, the plaintiff was not informed.
Lindquist continued to experience pain for years. When another MRI was performed on May 25, 2017, Lindquist was first informed of the metal object in his back. Within months, he filed a claim against the doctor who performed the 2013 surgery. In response, the doctor argued that the claim was prescribed under La. R.S. 9:5628 because it was filed more than three years after the surgery.
Contra non valentem applies where a plaintiff has been lulled into inaction because of concealment or fraudulent conduct by the defendant. The doctor argued that this standard was not met simply because the doctor was silent about the patient’s condition. However, the Lindquist court held that a doctor possesses an affirmative duty to advise a patient of pertinent medical information such as the presence of a metal artifact near the spine. Therefore, if the doctor, as alleged in Lindquist, failed to disclose a metal foreign object, this would constitute a fraudulent act which prevented the plaintiff from filing his claim timely. In Lindquist, prescription was interrupted by silence and the plaintiff/patient was allowed to pursue his claim.
Reynolds LeBlanc is a partner at Keogh Cox. His practice areas include commercial litigation, personal injury claims, appeals, and other matters. Reynolds is a former teacher, who in his free time plays music and perpetually talks himself into training for his next marathon.