Business Law

Filosa v. Alagappan (Dec. 21, 2020, A156412) __Cal.App.5th__ [2020 WL 7640128], certified for publication Jan. 8, 2021

MICRA statute of limitations runs from when a patient reasonably should notice that an undiagnosed condition has developed into a more serious condition.

Plaintiff Michael Filosa underwent an MRI in September 2010 after years of suffering severe and worsening headaches. Dr. Ravi Algappan, a radiologist, interpreted the MRI results and found no abnormalities. Filosa’s headaches continued to worsen, and he began suffering other adverse physical and mental challenges. In 2014, he underwent brain imaging that revealed a brain cyst or tumor. A new review of the 2010 MRI showed that a “relatively subtle” mass already existed at that time. Filosa sued Dr. Algappan for medical malpractice in March 2016 (after serving notice of intent to sue in November 2015) based on his failure to diagnose the brain mass in 2010. The trial court granted Dr. Algappan’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that Filosa’s lawsuit was barred by the MICRA statute of limitations (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5).  Filosa appealed.

The Court of Appeal reversed. The court explained that section 340.5 required Filosa to file his medical malpractice action “on the earlier date of three years after his injury or one year after he discovered [or reasonably should have discovered] the injury, plus 90 days under section 364, subdivision (d).” Because “the same ‘injury commences both the three-year and the one-year limitations periods,’ ” identifying the date when Filosa’s “injury” occurred is crucial. When a plaintiff brings a malpractice action based on the defendant’s failure to diagnose a latent, progressive condition, an “injury” occurs when the plaintiff either notices or reasonably should notice that the undiagnosed condition has developed into a more serious condition. 

Here, although Filosa’s headaches steadily worsened over many years, a jury could reasonably find that this was a continuation of an existing condition, not a manifestation of a more serious condition. Moreover, the jury could reasonably infer that any increase in symptoms was due to other events disrupting Filosa’s life, including a divorce, solo child care, the need for mental health services to combat stress and depression, and declining job performance. Finally, although Filoso continued to express concern about a possible brain tumor, his physician dismissed that concern. Under the circumstances, “a patient’s concerns or suspicions about the diagnosis do not trigger the statute of limitations when no more serious condition is manifest and no lack of diligence is shown.” Thus, the undisputed facts did not conclusively establish the appearance of a more serious condition that would trigger the three-year MICRA statute of limitations, nor did they establish that Filosa was on notice of (or should have discovered) his injury and its negligent cause more than one year before he filed his complaint.

The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.

For more information regarding this bulletin, please contact H. Thomas Watson, Horvitz & Levy LLP, at 818-995-0800 or htwatson@horvitzlevy.com.

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