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Continuous Treatment Rule in Medical Malpractice Cases

The procedural rule of statute of limitations provides the plaintiff a certain amount of time to bring in a lawsuit from the time the incident has occurred. In case of medical practice in New York, the patient has two and half years to start the case against the negligent doctor. However, there is a doctrine in the law called the continuous treatment rule. This rule will extend the time that the patient has for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in New York, even when the statutes of limitation has expired. Hence, this rule tolls or extends the statutes of limitations.

Purpose of Continuous Treatment Doctrine

The continuous treatment rule is meant to postpone the starting date of the statute of limitations, until the treatment for the particular illness or condition is over. The rule is actually meant to give an opportunity to the doctor to correct any mistakes that may have occurred during the initial treatment, before the victim starts a lawsuit.

For instance, a surgery has been done negligently on January 1st, 2010, and the surgeon does series of follow up surgeries on first of March, June, and September of the same year to correct his mistakes. The surgeon then does a review of the surgeries on October 1st, 2010. In case the surgeon has not been able to correct his mistakes, then the statute of limitations for the patient will begin from October 1st, 2010, and not January 1st, 2010.

When does Continuous Treatment Rule not Apply

The continuous treatment doctrine benefits patients, since they will have more time for filing the lawsuit. However, advantage of continuous treatment can only apply when the patient has continued treatment for the same condition. Even if the patient has been going to the same doctor for many years, it may not necessarily be for the same condition.

Hence, a medical malpractice lawyer will have to evaluate various factors before arriving at the correct date of the starting of statutes of limitations. The attorney will have review every single page of the patient's medical record to find out:

· Why did the patient go to the doctor and what complaints were made

· What examinations were conducted

· Did the doctor address those complaints

· Did the doctor formulate or prescribe a treatment plan for those complaints

Overall, the lawyer will have to find out if the doctor did things affirmatively, that would suggest he recognized the problem, formulated a treatment, and asked the patient to come back for follow up checkups. It is very important to know, whether the patient has gone for follow up visits and what complaints the patient made then. If the patient has simply gone for a routine visit and does not mention the particular problem, then continuous treatment rule will not apply.

For determining whether the case qualifies for continuous treatment rule, it is paramount to check the treatment plan of the doctor. If the records show that the doctor has not prescribed any treatment addressing the original complaint then continuous treatment doctrine will not apply.

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