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Hospital Employee’s Takedown of Mental Health Patient Was Intentional, Not Negligent; Thus Claim Was Time-Barred

In any Syracuse medical malpractice case, time is of the essence. When a claim is not filed within the time allowed by law, it is very difficult – and often impossible – to proceed with what might otherwise have been a good case. This is unfortunate, as the plaintiff’s suffering goes uncompensated and the defendant gets away with poor treatment of a patient.

The exact time during which a claim can be made can vary significantly from case to case, with some situations calling for action to be taken within a very short time (especially if a governmental entity may be liable or if a defective product caused harm to a user).

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the guardian ad litem for a paranoid schizophrenic adult male patient who claimed that an employee of the defendant hospital had “beat [him] up” when he was an in-patient there in 2009, causing him to lose consciousness and sustain injuries to his eye that required surgery and resulted in loss of vision. Somewhat in contrast to the patient’s testimony, the plaintiff’s complaint asserted that the patient had been “physically taken down, restrained, and controlled… in a negligent manner,” thereby causing his injuries; according to the plaintiff, the defendant was liable for the actions of its employees under a theory of respondeat superior.

The Supreme Court of Kings County granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to NY CPLR 3211(a)(5), agreeing with the defendant that the plaintiff’s claim sounded in intentional tort, not negligence or medical malpractice, and was thus barred by New York’s one-year statute of limitations for such causes of action.

The Decision on Appeal

On appeal by the plaintiff, the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, affirmed the lower court’s ruling. According to the reviewing tribunal, a court that is asked to determine which of multiple possible limitations periods apply to a given case must first look to the substance of the allegations – not to the manner in which those allegations are characterized by the parties. In the case at bar, the patient’s deposition testimony established that the injuries about which the plaintiff complained were the result of alleged intentional assault and battery, not an act of malpractice or neglect. The plaintiff’s attempt to characterize the incident as a “negligent takedown” of the patient did not serve to toll the applicable statute of limitations. Insomuch as the plaintiff’s complaint was not filed until some 2 1/2 years after the incident, it was barred by the statute of limitations.

In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiff had also attempted to argue that the statute of limitations should be tolled due to the patient’s lengthy psychiatric history, but the court found that the plaintiff’s diagnosis, in and of itself, did not trigger a tolling of the statute of limitations under NY CPLR 208. In the court’s opinion, the patient’s deposition testimony demonstrated that his condition was not so severe as to meet the standard for applicability of that statute. Rather, the patient was able to “do pretty much most things any normal person could do.”

Talk to a Lawyer About a Medical Negligence Case

The statute of limitations is one of the most important considerations in a Syracuse medical malpractice case. Unfortunately, not every situation involving a patient and a healthcare provider is measured by the same limitations period, so it is very important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe that you have been hurt by neglect or other improper treatment at a New York hospital or other medical facility. To schedule an appointment with the experienced New York medical negligence attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, call us now at 315-479-9000.

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