North Carolina, like other states, has statutes of limitations that restrict how long a plaintiff has to bring a civil lawsuit for various types of wrongdoing. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice suits is typically three years.
In March, the North Carolina Appeals Court (the second-highest court in the state) unanimously upheld a superior court ruling against a woman who claimed dental malpractice after her jaw was broken during a Nov. 2016 wisdom tooth removal in Asheville. The superior court judge overruled another judge’s ruling that allowed the statute of limitations to be extended in the case.
The dentist minimized the damage to the patient
According to the plaintiff, “Substantial pressure was placed on [the plaintiff’s] jaw during the procedure.” Afterward, her dentist informed her that “a small piece of bone in her jaw had broken during the procedure.” The dentist’s notes, however, reflected that a larger portion of her jaw broke off when the tooth was removed.
The plaintiff claims that during follow-up visits, she reported intense pain, difficulty eating and even trouble opening her mouth. Her dentist reportedly dismissed the pain as being caused by having her mouth open so wide throughout the procedure. He referred her to an oral surgeon and then a physical therapist. He reportedly didn’t personally treat her again.
Judges disagreed over an extension of the statute of limitations
After receiving a ruling by a judge that extended her statute of limitations, the patient filed a malpractice complaint in April 2020 against the dentist. When the dentist’s attorneys argued that the statute shouldn’t have been extended, the next judge agreed that under North Carolina’s law, which measures the three-year statute of limitations from the end of the defendant provider’s treatment, it had already run out.
The judge who wrote the opinion for the North Carolina Court of Appeals noted that “letters written by a surgeon to a patient encouraging the patient to seek follow-up treatment with the surgeon did not constitute treatment.”
Rulings like this show how seriously statutes of limitations are taken. The ruling also shows why it’s crucial that potential plaintiffs have a detailed understanding of North Carolina malpractice and statute of limitations laws – and that they keep detailed records and notes about all interactions and communications with medical providers. With experienced legal guidance, you can avoid problems like this that could prevent you from obtaining justice and compensation.