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Carroll v. Piedmont Medical Care Corp.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

October 17, 2019


          DILLARD, P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ.


         Lylah Carroll, acting in her capacity as administrator for the estate of her deceased husband (Byron Tyrone Carroll), appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Piedmont Medical Care Corporation and Piedmont Hospitalist Physicians, L.L.C.[1] The Estate argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Piedmont on the basis that its medical-malpractice claims were barred by the statute of limitation when the limitation period was tolled by fraud.[2] For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (i.e., the Estate), [3]the record shows that Byron was hospitalized on February 19, 2012, after being transported by ambulance following complaints of abdominal pain. Thereafter, from February 19 until February 26, Byron underwent a number of diagnostic tests and examinations by various professionals within the hospital, but he was never administered a CT scan, despite one having been ordered by a physician on February 21. On February 26, Byron-who at that point was in the Critical Care Unit-continued to experience increasing abdominal discomfort and other symptoms, and a CT scan was finally performed. This scan revealed what appeared to be perforation of Byron's colon, and he underwent an urgent laparotomy, during which doctors discovered stool throughout his abdomen, a perforation of the colon, and early necrosis of the bowel. Then, during a second exploratory laparotomy on March 1, 2012, doctors determined that the bowel was gangrenous and nonviable, and end-of-life protocols were discussed with the family. Byron passed away later that evening.

         Lylah filed a complaint for damages against Piedmont and a number of other defendants[4] on February 14, 2017, asserting claims for medical negligence related to the care Byron received during the hospitalization that ended with his death. This complaint was filed as a renewal of a prior action that was filed on May 31, 2016, and dismissed without prejudice on August 15, 2016. On March 15, 2017, Piedmont answered and filed a motion to dismiss the renewal action, contending that it was barred by the statute of limitation.

         Thereafter, on April 14, 2017, the Estate filed an amended complaint, in which it alleged that the statute of limitation in the case was tolled by fraud on behalf of Piedmont, and the Estate also filed a response to Piedmont's motion to dismiss. Piedmont then filed an answer to the amended complaint, a reply to the Estate's response to its motion to dismiss, and a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The Estate then filed a second amended complaint. Piedmont, once again, moved to dismiss the second amended complaint.

         The trial court sua sponte converted Piedmont's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, ordering the parties to file evidence pertinent to the motion. Following the submission of evidence and a hearing on the motion, [5] the trial court granted Piedmont's request that the case be dismissed. In doing so, the court concluded that no fraud tolled the running of the statute of limitation and, thus, the time limit expired prior to the filing of the initial lawsuit. This appeal by the Estate follows.

         The Estate argues that the trial court erred in concluding that the limitation period was not tolled by fraud on the part of Piedmont. We disagree.

         In actions alleging medical malpractice, the claim must be filed "within two years after the date on which an injury . . . arising from a negligent or wrongful act or omission occurred."[6] Thus, in most cases of negligent treatment or misdiagnosis, the statute of limitation for medical malpractice will "begin running at the time of the treatment or misdiagnosis."[7] But the statute of limitation is tolled if "the defendant or those under whom he claims are guilty of a fraud by which the plaintiff has been debarred or deterred from bringing an action[.]"[8] In those cases, the statute of limitation runs from the time of the discovery of the fraud.[9] Importantly, even if there is evidence of fraud, "the statute of limitation is not tolled when the plaintiff knew all facts necessary to show malpractice before the running of the period of limitation."[10]

         Here, the Estate argues that Piedmont's negligence resulted in Byron's death on March 1, 2012. In the second amended complaint, the Estate alleges that,

[a]s a result of the surgical discovery of the bowel rupture and the resulting significant tissue death throughout [Byron's] small bowel, [Piedmont] knew this injury was caused by and was the direct result of [Piedmont's] negligence in failing to properly work-up, evaluate and treat [Byron's] bowel obstruction during the seven days prior to the discovery of the rupture on February 26, 2012.

         The Estate then alleges that,

[d]espite their knowledge of the basis and cause of the severe rupture injury and tissue death [Byron] experienced, [Piedmont] failed to inform the Plaintiff that [Byron's] severe injury and his resulting death were related to and directly caused by [Piedmont's] negligent acts and omissions in the 7 days preceding the detection of this injury.

         And it is this failure to disclose what the Estate contends is a "causal connection" between the failure to earlier obtain a CT scan and Byron's resulting injuries that constitutes the "constructive and actual fraud and misrepresentation ...

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