George E. Cutler v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Paul G. Matz, M.D.: A legal injury occurs, not when the harm manifests itself, but rather when the malpractice itself occurs.
On July 8, 2016, the Supreme Court of Alabama entered its decision in George E. Cutler v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Paul G. Matz, M.D., [Ms. 1150546], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016), in a medical malpractice action. The alleged medical malpractice occurred on June 28, 2005, when the defendants, Cutler and UAHSF, failed to inform Cutler about a tumor in his brain. Cutler filed his Complaint more than ten years later, on October 14, 2015, alleging that his cause of action did not accrue until February 11, 2015, when he first suffered a legal injury, in the form of a seizure that required surgical resection of the tumor.
Cutler alleges, that because the malpractice and resulting injury did not occur simultaneously, the applicable limitations period (as set forth in Alabama Code § 6-5-482, establishing a four-year statute of repose) did not begin to run until the legal injury occurred. Under Alabama law, in medical malpractice actions, the legal injury occurs at the time of the negligent act or omission, regardless of whether the injury is or could be discovered within the statutory period. See Ex parte Hodge, 153 So.3d 734 (Ala 2014); Ex parte Sonnier, 707 So.2d 635 (Ala. 1997).
It was therefore the Court’s determination that Cutler first suffered a legal injury caused by the defendants’ failure to inform him of the tumor on June 28, 2005, and that based on Cutler’s allegations, he suffered a legal injury (the harmful growth of the tumor) within four years following June 2005, rather than the injury occurring in February 2015, as alleged by Cutler. Consistent with its prior opinions, the Court held that the legal injury occurred at the time of the malpractice, not at the time of the manifestation of the suffered harm. Applying its finding, the Court held that Cutler would be unable to prove any set of facts to support his contention that his legal injury occurred after the expiration of the four-year statute of repose.