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How Much “Medical” is Necessary for Medical Malpractice?

Medical Malpractice

Civil actions utilize various statutes of limitations to assist in judicial efficacy.  Generally, the statute of limitations for negligence actions is three years- but there are exceptions.  For example, medical malpractice, although technically a negligence action, is bound by a 2 ½ year limit.  This difference often leads to judicial wrangling with the definition of “medical care” and whether non-traditional medical providers (such as chiropractors) are also included in the shortened limit.

Contemporary courts have attempted to reduce the confusion in these types of cases by suggesting factors that should be considered when determining whether a case should be classified as a medical malpractice action.  The courts addressed the issue on several occasions and tend to be divided on what determines “medical care”: is it the type of care, or the professional qualifications of the person providing the care?

When the statute specifically lists certain practitioners or medical fields, some courts believe this to be a legislation intention to exclude any not listed.  For example, New York Civil Practice Law and Rules lists “…medical, dental or podiatric malpractice…” (CPLR §214a).  Some courts interpreting this statute believe that law makers clearly wanted to exclude non-traditional service providers because they chose to explicitly list certain areas of practice. However, other courts have disagreed.  These courts find that even if a provider or area of care is not specifically listed in a statute, the shorter statute of limitations still applies based on the type of care provided, focusing more on the type of care and less on who is providing the care.

New York Courts have been grappling with the issue since the shaping case of Bleiler v. Bodnar was decided by the Court of Appeals in 1985.  The holding in Bleiler determined that the taking of medical history constituted “medical care” as defined in the shorter statute of limitations, even though it was not a doctor who compiled the medical history.  A year later, the case of Foote v. Picinich used the rationale that medical malpractice is determined by a combination of type of provider and type of care.  Foote also held that chiropractors were subject to medical malpractice claims, as long as the event at issue consisted of “medical care” or has a “substantial relationship” to rendering medical care.  Subsequent case law has pointed out that the shortened statute was supposed to protect the medical profession that was experiencing an incredible amount of medical malpractice claims, and should not protect other care providers that would benefit from a shortened statute (See Karasek v. LaJoie and Friedman v. New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center).

The current pending appellate case of Perez v. Fitzgerald brings the question to the courts for the first time this millennium.  Perez involves a chiropractor who did not refer a patient for an MRIWith the decisions of Bleiler and Foote, it would seem that the chiropractor is a “medical provider” and that an MRI is “medical care”, therefore the denial of “medical care” by the chiropractor is medical malpractice and subject to the shortened statute of limitations.  However, the analysis of Perez may be more consequential for future claims, if the court addresses the expansion of the medical profession, as more and more people opt for non-traditional medical treatment for their complete health care.

Summary:

Civil actions utilize various statutes of limitations to assist in judicial efficacy. Generally, the statute of limitations for negligence actions is three years- but there are exceptions.

These courts find that even if a provider or area of care is not specifically listed in a statute, the shorter statute of limitations still applies based on the type of care provided, focusing more on the type of care and less on who is providing the care.

Foote also held that chiropractors were subject to medical malpractice claims, as long as the event at issue consisted of “medical care” or has a “substantial relationship” to rendering medical care.