Court extends time limit for plaintiffs suing absconded doctor

February 9, 2023 | Crandall & Pera Law
Court extends time limit for plaintiffs suing absconded doctor

The Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled that the time limit for filing medical malpractice lawsuits imposed by the state’s statute of repose should be extended for the patients of a negligent surgeon who fled the country. The 4-3 decision allows hundreds of patients to pursue litigation against the absconded doctor, the medical organization he owned and the hospital where he practiced. Medical malpractice patients usually have only four years to file lawsuits even if they do not discover their injuries immediately. The absconded doctor fled the United States in 2013 after being indicted for fraud by the federal government.

Clear and unambiguous

The dissenting justices voted the way they did because the statute of repose, which was enacted in 2002, includes three specific situations where the time limit for filing medical malpractice lawsuits can be extended. A defendant fleeing the state or country is not among them. The dissenting justices concluded that additional exceptions can only be made when other laws require them in a clear and unambiguous manner.

Lawmakers have been clear

The majority of the justices accepted this basic argument, but they took issue with the dissenting justice’s views of how clear and unambiguous lawmakers have to be. The justice writing for the majority pointed out that when the General Assembly revised the Ohio Code in 2003, lawmakers specifically stated that the four-year time period for filing personal injury lawsuits does not run when the defendant has absconded, left the state or is hiding from the authorities. The case the justices ruled on involves a man who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after suffering serious injuries during botched spinal surgery in 2010. Hundreds of the absconded doctor’s other patients have also filed lawsuits.

Plaintiffs will have their day in court

The patients who suffered harm due to the absconded doctor’s negligence and incompetence will finally get their day in court, but it took a Supreme Court ruling to give them the right to pursue legal remedies against those responsible. A trial court dismissed the case the justices ruled on, and an appeals court dismissed the claims against the medical practice and hospital involved. This is worrying because these dismissals contradicted the clear and unambiguous intent of the General Assembly.