Connecticut Supreme Court Issues Ruling Affecting Late-Filed Lawsuits

On April 23, 2013, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a decision that could affect your ability to bring a medical malpractice claim.

Lawrence Santorso sued Bristol Hospital, alleging that the hospital and doctors negligently failed to treat him for a lung condition that had been detected on three prior occasions.  When the hospital and doctors finally diagnosed Mr. Santorso with lung cancer, he was beyond saving, and he died during the litigation process.   In Connecticut, to pursue a medical malpractice claim, the injured patient, through his lawyer, has to file a “good faith” certificate and an opinion by a healthcare provider that there is merit to the complaint.  Mr. Santorso’s lawyer did not do so originally.  When given the chance to file an amended complaint, the attorney filed opinion letters written after the case was originally started.  The law, Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-190a,  requires that the letters pre-date the complaint and the case was dismissed.

After the first case was dismissed, Mr. Santorso’s widow refiled the case, using those very same letters.  However, with the second case, those letters were, obviously, dated prior to the filing.  The hospital tried to argue that the dismissal of the first case operated as “res judicata”, a legal term that prevents a plaintiff from having two bites at the apple.  Res judicata only applies where there is a decision on the merits.  The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal for failure to include the physician letter was not on the merits, but it was rather a procedural, jurisdictional question.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Santorso, the Connecticut Supreme Court did not end its decision at that point.  Connecticut has a “savings” statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-592, which permits second lawsuits to be filed after a statute of limitations has expired where “a matter of form” causes a first lawsuit to be dismissed.  The second lawsuit in this case was filed after the statute of limitations had run out, but Mrs. Santorso claimed that the lack of a timely physician letter in the first case was merely a matter of form.  The Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed.  The Justices felt there was no excusable neglect.  As a result, the case has been terminated.

If you are injured, be sure to hire an attorney who understands the intricacies of Connecticut civil procedure.  The CT Injury Law Center has the experience and training necessary to anticipate a court’s judgment and to use that knowledge to zealously advocate for our clients.

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