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Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice case is tolled until the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should discover, the occasion, the manner, and the means by which a breach of duty occurred that produced his injuries; and the identity of the defendant who breached the duty. It is not necessary that the plaintiff actually know that the injury constitutes a breach of the appropriate legal standard in order to discover that he has a right of action; the plaintiff is deemed to have discovered the right of action if he is aware of facts sufficient to put a reasonable person on notice that he has suffered an injury as a result of wrongful conduct.
A patient consented to what she thought would be minor treatment on one of her toes. The doctor actually performed extensive surgery on both of the patient's feet. She continued to visit the doctor following the surgery. More than one year after the surgery, but less than one year from the date of the patient's last visit with the doctor, she filed a malpractice action against the doctor. The doctor claimed that the statute of limitations barred all of the patient's claims. The trial court found for the patient on some of her claims, but the lower court reversed and dismissed the complaint on the ground that it was time-barred.
Does the common law "continuing medical treatment doctrine" remain viable in Tennessee and operate to toll the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases until the termination of treatment or the physician/patient relationship?
The court rejected the patient's claim that her complaint was timely under the common law continuing medical treatment doctrine, in that she brought the claim within one year of her last visit to the doctor. The court held that Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116, which provided for a one year statute of limitations following a negligent act or the reasonable discovery of the breach of duty and the identity of the person who breached the duty, controlled. The patient knew of her injury soon after surgery, and her claim was time-barred.