Applying the discovery rule to medical negligence claims means that for statute of limitations purposes, the claim accrues on the date the injury is first discovered or should have been first discovered.
The plaintiff was a partial quadriplegic whose only functioning limb was his left arm. He sought medical treatment from defendants for muscle spasms in his lower body. The defendant doctor suggested he undergo a procedure that involved a spinal injection of a chemical solution to deaden the nerves that were causing the muscle spasms. The doctor informed the plaintiff patient of the risks of the procedure, but did not tell him that there was any risk that he could lose function in his arm. The doctor performed the surgery on 1987. After the surgery, the plaintiff noticed that his left arm was numb and did not function. The doctor told him that the numbness was temporary, but the plaintiff did not regain function in his arm for another two years. In 1990, the plaintiff sued the doctor, alleging that the doctor was negligent in failing to obtain informed consent to the surgery as well as negligently performing the surgery.
Does the statute of limitations begin to run on a claim for negligent surgery at the time the plaintiff knew or should have known of defendants’ negligence?
The statute of limitations in Oregon for claims arising from medical treatment is two years from the date the “injury” is first discovered or should have been first discovered. In light of the context of the statute, the plain text, and the legislative history, the court determined that the legislature intended the word “injury” to mean legally cognizable harm. Therefore, in determining when a claim accrues for statute of limitations purposes, the issue is when the plaintiff knew or should have known facts that would make a reasonable person aware of a substantial possibility that he or she had suffered damage as the result of tortious conduct. Because patients should be able to rely on their doctors’ assurances, this “discovery rule” applies to most medical negligence claims. In this case, the negligent surgery claim is not time barred. In contrast, the discovery rule does not apply to the informed consent claim. In the instant case, a genuine issue of material fact exists in this case as to when plaintiff discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have discovered "injury." Plaintiff's negligent surgery claim is not barred as a matter of law by the statute of limitations. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment for defendants.