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Fox v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. - 35 Cal. 4th 797, 27 Cal. Rptr. 3d 661, 110 P.3d 914 (2005)

Rule:

In order to employ the discovery rule to delay accrual of a cause of action, a potential plaintiff who suspects that an injury has been wrongfully caused must conduct a reasonable investigation of all potential causes of that injury. If such an investigation would have disclosed a factual basis for a cause of action, the statute of limitations begins to run on that cause of action when the investigation would have brought such information to light. In order to adequately allege facts supporting a theory of delayed discovery, the plaintiff must plead that, despite diligent investigation of the circumstances of the injury, he or she could not have reasonably discovered facts supporting the cause of action within the applicable statute of limitations period. 

Facts:

A patient filed a first amended complaint in her medical malpractice action adding a manufacturer of a surgical stapler device as a defendant. The patient, who alleged that she was injured by the stapler on April 10, 1999, while undergoing gastric bypass surgery, timely filed her medical malpractice claim on June 28, 2000. Her cause of action for products liability was alleged for the first time in the first amended complaint filed on November 28, 2001. The patient alleged that she could not, with reasonable investigation, have discovered earlier that the stapler might have caused her injury. The manufacturer demurred to the first amended complaint, contending that the products liability claim was time-barred by the one-year statute of limitations under Code Civ. Proc., § 340, former subd. (3). The trial court sustained the manufacturer’s demurrer to the complaint, concluding that the statute of limitations barred the products liability cause of action. (Superior Court of Fresno County, No. 0654613-9, Stephen Joseph Kane, Judge.) The Court of Appeal, Fifth Dist., No. F041148, reversed the trial court’s order, holding that the bright-line rule of imputed simultaneous discovery of causes of action did not apply.injured by the stapler on April 10, 1999, while undergoing gastric bypass surgery, timely filed her medical malpractice claim on June 28, 2000. Her cause of action for products liability was alleged for the first time in the first amended complaint filed on November 28, 2001. The patient alleged that she could not, with reasonable investigation, have discovered earlier that the stapler might have caused her injury. 

Issue:

Whether the statute of limitations for that cause of action was tolled until such time as a reasonable investigation would have revealed its factual basis.

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of California affirmed the appellate court judgment. The court held that under the delayed discovery rule, a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff has reason to suspect an injury and some wrongful cause, unless the plaintiff pleads and proves that a reasonable investigation at that time would not have revealed a factual basis for that particular cause of action. In that case, the statute of limitations for that cause of action will be tolled until such time as a reasonable investigation would have revealed its factual basis. The defect in the patient’s first amended complaint could have been cured by a proposed amendment to that complaint. The proposed second amended complaint would have properly alleged that the products liability cause of action did not accrue until after the stapler malfunction was revealed during a deposition of the physician who performed the surgery. The facts that the patient sought to add to her complaint supported her allegation that she did not suspect, nor did she have reason to discover, facts supporting a products liability action against the manufacturer until after the deposition. Accordingly, the trial court was properly ordered to grant the patient leave to amend her complaint.

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