Medical Malpractice – “Continuing Course Of Treatment” Doctrine
Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that required the court to discuss the continuing course of treatment doctrine as it applies to late-filed medical malpractice cases. The court ultimately determined that the doctrine does apply under Massachusetts law, but it only tolls a statute of limitations up to the point at which the allegedly negligent physician stops treating the patient.
The Continuing Course of Treatment Doctrine
Medical malpractice cases must be filed within a certain period of time, or by law, the court must dismiss the case. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. Generally speaking, a statute of limitations begins when the cause of actions accrues, meaning when the negligent medical act is performed. However, in some cases, a patient may not realize that they have been a victim of medical malpractice until months or years later.
In situations in which a patient does not immediately realize their injuries, there is an exception to the statute of limitations, and it may be extended or “tolled.” Under this exception, a statute of limitations will not start until the plaintiff realizes that they have been injured.