SW Legal studies in Business

Running of Statute of Limitations May Be Tolled by Incapacity
Description

Washington high court held that the tolling of the statute of limitations may be halted due to the inability of the plaintiff to comprehend the matter involved. Whether the plaintiff was incapacitated is a factual matter that may be determined at trial.

Topic Court Procedure
Key Words

Statute of Limitations; Capacity; Negligence; Malpractice

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

On July 19, 1996, Dr. Muraki performed a renal angiogram and angioplasty on Rivas. On July 21, 1999, three years and two days later, and facing the loss of her kidney, Rivas sued Muraki for medical negligence. Muraki moved for summary judgment, claiming that the three year statute of limitations barred the suit. Rivas claimed that the running of the statute was tolled for the four days she spent in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately after the surgery. The trial court agreed that Rivas was incapacitated while in the ICU, so the time began to toll after Rivas left the ICU, not on the day of the surgery. The appeals court reversed, holding that the tolling of the statute of limitations could not be limited. Rivas appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. A genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Rivas, while in the ICU, was incapacitated to the extent that she could not understand the nature of her cause of action when it accrued at the time of the allegedly defective surgery. The tolling of the statute of limitation can be halted due to disability or incapacity, during which time the plaintiff is presumed to fall under guardianship due to incapacity, but it is a factual matter to be determined at trial if Rivas was incapacitated.

Citation

Rivas v. Overlake Hospital Medical Center, 189 P.3d 753 (Sup. Ct., Wash., 2008)

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