The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a jury would be best poised to decide whether a couple’s medical malpractice lawsuit was filed in time.
In Nancy and Nicholas Nicolaou’s case against a doctor who allegedly misdiagnosed Nancy Nicolaou’s Lyme disease as multiple sclerosis, the justices reversed a state Superior Court ruling upholding summary judgment.
The Superior Court panel determined that numerous pieces of evidence, including Facebook posts made soon after Nicolaou’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, indicated she suspected she had Lyme disease more than two years before the statute of limitations allowing her to sue over the diagnosis expired.
Although the en banc Superior Court’s ruling affirmed a decision from the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas that tossed the case on summary judgment, it also marked the reversal of a three-judge panel of the Superior Court, which had called for the statute of limitations issue to be resolved by a jury.
Nicolaou argued that, while she may have suspected Lyme disease, she did not believe she suffered from it and was only able to confirm she had the disease after a specific test in 2010. However, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan, writing for the Superior Court majority, cited two Facebook posts in the court records that the intermediate appeals court found undercut that argument.
In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Justice Max Baer said, “We hold that summary judgment was granted improperly because the determination of whether plaintiffs acted with due diligence under the circumstances presented is one of fact for a jury to decide. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court, reverse the order granting summary judgment, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.”
Further into the opinion, Baer elaborated, “We respectfully find that the Superior Court erred by concluding, as a matter of law, that plaintiffs knew or should have known sometime between July and September of 2009 … that Mrs. Nicolaou suffered from Lyme disease and that her debilitating health problems could have been caused by defendants’ failure to diagnose and treat such condition.”
“The Superior Court relied upon the fact that by such time an MRI had indicated that Mrs. Nicolaou had suffered from either Lyme disease or MS, Nurse [Rita] Rhoads had informed Mrs. Nicolaou of a probable diagnosis of Lyme disease based upon her clinical symptoms, and some of Mrs. Nicolaou’s symptoms had improved upon administration of antibiotics. When viewed in a vacuum, these facts may have alerted a reasonable person that she suffered an injury at the hands of medical professionals who failed to diagnose and treat her Lyme disease. Indeed, these circumstances may or may not persuade a jury to so conclude.”
Nicolaou’s lawyer, Nathan Murawsky of Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin, said of the ruling, “I think it was definitely a victory for victims of malpractice. It reaffirmed that when there are any issues of fact it’s got to be decided by the jury.”
Mark Zolfaghari, chief medical litigation officer at St. Luke’s University Health Network, who represented defendant Dr. James Martin before the justices, declined to comment.