Limitation periods, or how to make time when you need it most

Karolina Kolary        12 July 2016        Comments (0)

Medical negligence cases are the bread and butter for the Personal Injury Team at BFP. It has to be said however that cross-border medical negligence cases are overall far more scarce.

It is never easy to write about such cases, as usually the consequences of medical negligence are dire. Nevertheless, we will do our best to describe one specific case that our Team has worked on fairly recently.

A young woman who is a resident of the UK experienced acute, severe abdominal pains during her short visit to Poland. Subsequently she made an appointment with a local gynaecologist. The doctor performed an ultrasound scan and did not notice anything out of the ordinary.

Just a couple days later the woman was admitted to a hospital due to extensive bleeding from her genital tract. Surgery was performed, revealing an ectopic pregnancy in the fallopian tube, which caused the fallopian tube to rupture, leading to a massive, life-threatening hemorrhage. The woman’s condition was critical, however fortunately the surgery was successful, and the post-operation convalescence period went smoothly. Health was restored and life, though threatened, was saved. The woman will however never be whole again, as the ruptured fallopian tube had to be removed completely during the surgery.

The woman returned to the UK and sought legal assistance from local law firms in order to pursue compensatory claims from the doctor who failed to diagnose the ectopic pregnancy during the ultrasound scan. Had he done so, the pregnancy would be treated earlier, thus likely preventing the rupture of the fallopian tube and all the consequences thereof.

As it turned out however, when the case was brought to our attention there was not much time left before the statute of limitation on the claims would expire, in accordance with Polish substantive law (which law is applicable in the case at hand, since Poland is the country were the damage occurred*). Our advice was therefore to quickly interrupt the statute of limitation by filing a motion for a summons to a conciliation hearing (in Polish: wniosek o zawezwanie do próby ugodowej).

The aim of such a motion is for two conflicted parties to fairly easily and quickly conclude a settlement before a court. A side-effect of such a motion is the interruption of the limitation period on the claims specifically mentioned by the applicant in the motion – even if for any reason the settlement does not end up happening. When the limitation period is interrupted in such a way, it begins to run anew from the date of the interruption, giving the aggrieved significantly more time to file a complaint.

Upon receiving proper instructions, the Personal Injury Team at the BFP law firm drafted and filed a motion for a summons to a conciliation hearing, which did indeed result in the interruption described above.

To our knowledge the case has still not concluded, and we hope to assist further on matters related to the Polish law. As such, we may have updates for you in the future – stay tuned!

*Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II)

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