Minors’ Medical Malpractice Claims No Longer Tolled after Court Ruling

 

In Schroeder v. Weighall, M.D. et al., the Washington State Supreme Court declared that RCW 4.16.190(2) was unconstitutional.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, January 16 that RCW 4.16.190(2) was unconstitutional, and that as a result all minors' medical malpractice claims will no longer be subject to the tolling provision that had previously treated minors with medical malpractice claims differently than minors with other civil injury claims.

About the Case: Schroeder v. Weighall, M.D.

According to court records, the plaintiff, Schroeder, was nine years old when he sought treatment for dizziness, nausea, headaches, double vision and weakness in his legs. The doctor ordered a MRI and after reviewing it, he claimed that nothing appeared abnormal on the imaging.

Symptoms continued to persist and when Schroeder was seventeen he then again sought treatment for the same symptoms. Another doctor requested a MRI and determined that Schroeder had a condition called Arnold Chiari Type I Malformation. This same doctor reviewed the scans that were taken of Schroeder when he was nine and determined that the condition had been present on those scans and the doctors had missed it.

The day before Schroeder turned nineteen, he filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Weighhall, Columbia Imaging, PC, and a third party, which were all subsequently dismissed by stipulation. Weighall asserted that the action was barred by the statute of limitations (RCW 4.16.350) and the minority tolling exemption (RCW 4.16.190(2)).

Implications from Supreme Court Decision Regarding Minors' Medical Malpractice Claims

Washington State’s law at the time allowed a lawsuit to be filed within three years from the act or omission giving rise to the injury or one year from when the patient discovered or reasonably should have discovered the cause of the injury.

In this case, Schroeder discovered the injury when he was still a minor. Washington State tolls the statute of limitations for minors until their eighteenth birthday. This law would allow Schroeder to file the lawsuit up until one year after his eighteenth birthday. However, the conflicting laws made it so he actually filed the lawsuit too late.

The Washington State Supreme Court held that the statute eliminating medical malpractice actions from general tolling brought by minors until the minor reached the age of the majority (eighteen) violated Washington’s Constitution article 1, section 12 which prohibits against special privileges and immunities unless there was reasonable ground. The court therefore held that RCW 4.16.190(2) was unconstitutional and reversed the trial judge’s decision that Schroeder’s medical malpractice suit was barred.

A minor who is injured as a result of alleged medical malpractice now as the option of waiting until their twenty-first birthday to file a claim. Because this amount to great gaps in time, this may result in faded memories and missing records and witnesses. As a result, this may significantly increase the cost of litigation.

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