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Med-mal statute of limitations tolled for continuing treatment; jury issue

Med-mal Statute of Limitations tolled for continuing treatment; the issue is for the jury to decide.

In an opinion filed July 26, 2011, the Court of Appeals, Eastern District affirmed the longstanding rule that so long as a physician accused of professional negligence (medical malpractice) continues to treat the plaintiff as a patient for the same or related conditions, the statute of limitations is tolled for the duration of the treatment, i.e., until treatment ceases.

A statute of limitations bars bringing (filing) a lawsuit for a claim, no matter how meritorious, after a specified period of time has lapsed. Missouri has a two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims (three if the malpractice results in death, i.e., becomes a "wrongful death" claim.

In Norman v. Lehman, case No. ED95661, the Circuit Court of St. Louis County granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant physician on the ground that because the physician's treatment of plaintiff ended more than two years prior to filing suit, the plaintiff's claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court. The Court of Appeals held that where there remains a factual dispute between the parties about when the treatment ended, it is an issue for the trier of fact to determine. That is to say, the trial court acted improperly by substituting its judgment for the jury on the question of when treatment ended. The plaintiff is entitled to present his case to a jury of his peers. It is for the jury—not the judge—to decide when the treatment ended, based on the evidence presented at the trial of the case.