Understanding the Accrual of Claims in Federal Tort Claims Act Cases in Indiana

Accrual, which usually refers to the date that would give rise to a potential plaintiff’s right to bring a cause of action, can often change the circumstances surrounding whether a claim is viable or not in Indiana. For example, this inquiry is particularly relevant when time is of the essence in a medical malpractice lawsuit and the determination of the plaintiff’s accrual date could render their lawsuit invalid under the statute of limitations.

In a recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, the court considered a federal medical malpractice case involving accrual dates. The plaintiff brought suit on behalf of herself and her son against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) after her son sustained a permanent injury to his left arm during birth. Once her son was born, the plaintiff immediately noticed that her son’s arm was injured. Because the hospital where the plaintiff delivered her child was a federally qualified health center that receives federal funding and grant money from the federal government, it means that its employees are covered against malpractice claims under the FTCA. The plaintiff, however, did not realize that the hospital qualified as a federally qualified health center despite the fact that such information was available on the internet, which meant that she would be unable to sue for medical malpractice.

After exhausting other remedies, the plaintiff eventually refiled the case more than three years after her son was born. The defendant, the United States, moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff’s claims had surpassed the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations.

On appeal, the court sided with the United States, claiming that the plaintiff was not entitled to relief. The plaintiff argued that her claim accrued on May 30th, 2014, when she retained her attorney as her counsel. According to the plaintiff, because she presented her claim on February 19, 2016, and her claim would only violate the statute of limitations under the FTCA if it accrued before February 19th, 2014, her claim was timely. The court disagreed and held that her claim actually accrued when her son was born in December 2013. Because more than three years had passed since accrual, the plaintiff’s case was deemed untimely by the court under the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations.

Claims under the FTCA can often be complex and confusing for potential plaintiffs. Such claims will be barred unless they are “presented in writing to the appropriate federal agency within two years after such a claim accrues.”

Under the FTCA, claims accrue either (1) when the individual becomes subjectively aware of the government’s involvement in the injury, or (2) when the individual acquires information that would prompt a reasonable person to inquire further into a potential government-related cause of the injury. Preference is given to whichever happens first. If, for example, like the plaintiff in the preceding case, the hospital was known and publicized as a government-funded hospital, then the birth of her son should have prompted her to inquire further into government-related causes in December 2013 when her son was born. Thus, the plaintiff failed to satisfy the statute of limitations requirement.

Do You Need an Indiana Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or someone you know has been injured in an Indiana medical malpractice case, contact attorney Burton A. Padove. Attorney Padove has years of experience representing clients in all types of personal injury cases and will advocate on your behalf to help you pursue the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation today, contact our team at 877-446-5294.

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