Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Currey (Defendant), negligently performed a surgery on the Plaintiff, Teeters (Plaintiff) that was intended to prevent future pregnancy. Plaintiff did not discover the negligence until three years later when she gave birth. Plaintiff sued and Defendant answered claiming the statute of limitations as a bar to recovery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under Tennessee law, the statute of limitations in medical malpractice actions begins to run when the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered the negligent injury.
Where choice must be made between the defendants problems of lost evidence, faded memories, and missing witnesses, on the one hand, and a deprivation to the plaintiff of any and all remedy for the wrong done her, on the other, the law must be construed in favor of the blamelessly ignorant plaintiff and against the interests and convenience of the wrongdoer.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Was the trial court correct in holding that the cause of action accrues when the injury occurs, so as to begin the running of the statute of limitations?
Held. No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
* In Bodne v. Austin, [156 Tenn. 366, 2 S.W.2d 104 (1928)], the Court held that the failure to discover the existence of a cause of action did not prevent the running of the statute of limitations. However, this decision was outdated and the court felt it was time to re-examine its past holdings.
* The purpose of statutes of limitations is to promote stability and to avoid the burdens of defending stale claims. In recognition of these goals, the courts have traditionally held that an action begins to accrue immediately upon the infliction or occurrence of injury, regardless of a failure by the plaintiff to discover his cause of action.
* In response to the results of this harsh rule, a majority of American states have adopted the discovery doctrine. Under this doctrine, the statute does not begin to run until the negligent injury is, or should have been discovered. The court adopts the discovery rule for cases involving the negligent performance of surgical procedures, so that the statute of limitations commences to run when the patient discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence for his own health and welfare, should have discovered the resulting injury.
Concurrence. Justice Harbison’s concurrence is omitted.
Discussion. The statute of limitations is a complete bar to actions. The time period by which to bring an action varies in length, with most states imposing a two or three year limitation for actions sounding in tort.