In Parr v. Rosenthal, a case from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the plaintiffs had filed a medical malpractice case against the defendants in the Superior Court. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is our state supreme court and the Superior Court is our highest level trial court.
In this case, plaintiff was born in 1994 with a large lump on his right calf. His parents took him to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in downtown Boston to have this lump examined. After being examined, doctors referred the child to what they call the sarcoma group to have the lumped imaged and a biopsy taken.
The sarcoma group is made up of various cancer specialists who regularly treat patients with tumors. The team members meet with each other twice a week to discuss their cases so everyone was on the same page, according to court records. The group made an initial diagnosis of the plaintiff’s lump as being a hamartoma. A hamartoma is a benign tumor-like lump, but is not a malignant tumor.
However, when the child was 8 years old, the lump had increased in size, and it caused the child to develop a limp. One of the doctors on the sarcoma team performed another biopsy at this point. The doctor now determined the lump was covering most of his calf. This included both the muscle and nerves and was the reason for the limp. This time, they determined that the lump was what is known as a desmoid tumor. This is a very rare tumor that is also benign.
The reason these tumors are so dangerous is that, while they are not cancerous, they can destroy tissue that is otherwise healthy. At this point, members of the cancer team decided to schedule an operation to remove the tumor. However, the child’s mother decided to look into other options, including the use of Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA). One of the members of the team said that he actually invented the RFA procedure. The group decided that RFA procedure would be appropriate. There were serious risks associated with this procedure, but his parents signed a consent.
During the procedure, things did not go exactly as planned, and more tissue was burned away than originally targeted. The doctor called other doctors from the treatment team into the operating room, and they made a decision to stop doing the rest of the procedure. They told the parents that there were some problems, but that the child would heal okay following the procedure. The child’s mother said she was not told how serious the problem was or that the child had been burned so badly.
Several weeks later, the child was in rehab, and the leg became necrotic and eventually had to be amputated. There were several more years of treatment, and eventually the parents filed a Boston medical malpractice lawsuit. It had been four years following the initial surgery. The defendants argued that the action was time barred because it was filed after the statute of limitations had run. The court agreed and dismissed the cause of action.
At this point the parents appealed, arguing that since he was under continuing treatment, the statute of limitations had not run. Initially, the court of appeals agreed, but the SJC ultimately held that the statute of limitations was not tolled in this case.
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Parr v. Rosenthal, September 2, 2016, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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