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Time Was On Her Side

The time you have in which to bring a lawsuit is limited by laws called "statutes of limitation," which are intended to make people bring their claims promptly and to protect defendants from long standing threats of legal action. However, limitations periods are subject to exceptions, as a recent case shows.

In 2001, a woman underwent surgery on her injured left shoulder. After the surgery, she was still in pain and was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from chondrolysis, a destruction of cartilage. The patient thought that she had been the victim of malpractice, and she sued her doctor in 2003.

During this suit, her expert revealed for the first time that the administration of the kind of anesthetic the patient had received through a "pain pump" was often associated with a subsequent loss of cartilage. This connection had been unknown at the time of the surgery and even when the suit was filed, but was becoming ever more accepted in the medical community.

Abandoning her claim against her doctor, the patient sued the maker of the pain pump. It responded by asserting a limitations defense, claiming that the patient had not sued it in time. The court found that the case was subject to the discovery rule, which extends the period in which to bring certain claims until the point at which the victim knew or should have known of the existence of the claim. The court found that the patient could hardly be expected to have known about her claim sooner than the medical community did and that because she had pursued her claim diligently on discovery, it was not barred, even though it otherwise would have been more than five years late.

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