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New York Court Discusses Relation-Back Doctrine in Medical Malpractice Cases

In some instances, while it is evident that a person suffered harm due to inadequate medical care, the identity of each physician that provided incompetent care will not immediately be clear. Although a plaintiff seeking damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit can add additional defendants after the lawsuit is filed, he or she generally must do so within the statute of limitations. There are some exceptions, however, such as when the relation-back doctrine applies. In a recent primary care malpractice case, a New York appellate court discussed the elements a plaintiff must prove for the relation-doctrine to apply. If you suffered damages due to negligent care from your primary care physician, it is advisable to consult a trusted Syracuse primary care malpractice attorney regarding your harm.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s decedent presented to her primary care physician’s office for outpatient care, following a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. During her visit, she was treated by the defendant physician. She was admitted to the hospital the day after her visit, for complications due to her colitis. She returned to her primary care physician’s office a month after she was discharged from the hospital and was treated by a non-party physician employed by the defendant physician. Shortly thereafter, she returned to the hospital, where it was revealed that she had a gangrenous and perforated colon. She died one week later.

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. After conducting the depositions of the defendant and the non-party physician, the plaintiff moved to add the non-party physician as a defendant. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the statute of limitations barred any additional claims.

Elements of the Relation Back Doctrine

The salient issue on appeal was whether the relation-back doctrine applied to allow the plaintiff to amend his lawsuit to join the non-party physician as a defendant past the statute of limitations. The court explained that a plaintiff arguing that the relation-back theory applies must first show that the new causes of action arose out of the same occurrence. The plaintiff must then show that the new defendant has a united interest with the original defendant and therefore is deemed to have notice of the lawsuit and would not suffer prejudice in defending against the plaintiff’s claims due to the delay. Lastly, the plaintiff must show that the new defendant knew or should have known that claims would be asserted against him or her.

In the subject case, the court found that the trial court properly ruled that the plaintiff established each element of the relation-back doctrine. First, the cause of action against the non-party defendant arose out of the same conduct as the claims against the defendant, specifically the treatment of the plaintiff. Further, as the non-party defendant was an employee of the defendant, they were united in interest, and the non-party defendant should have expected claims to be asserted against him. Thus, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Speak with a Trusted Malpractice Attorney

If you sustained injuries or suffered the loss of a loved one due to insufficient care from a primary care physician, it is in your best interest to speak with a trusted Syracuse primary care malpractice attorney regarding your possible claims. The experienced malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers will work tirelessly to craft effective arguments to help you seek the full amount of damages you may be able to recover. You can reach us via our online form or by calling 833-200-2000 to schedule a meeting.

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