Discovery: Hospital’s Refusal to Decipher Illegible Provider Signatures in a Timely Manner Tolls Statute of Limitations

August 17, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​A New Jersey court of appeals concluded that a defendant health system unjustifiably and continually thwarted a plaintiff's diligent attempts over a period of more than 15 months after she filed a malpractice complaint to learn the correct identity of defendants known solely to the health system. The court found that the health system refused to provide the plaintiff with requested information identifying certain physicians and nurses who attended to her, as confirmed by their (indecipherable) signatures on hospital charts, records, and reports. The court concluded that the defendant's refusal to provide the information to the plaintiff in a timely manner should result in no adverse legal consequences to the plaintiff's litigation. It reversed lower court orders granting summary judgment to certain defendants and dismissing the complaint as barred by the state's two-year statute of limitations and returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

The complaint alleged that the health system, hospital, several physicians on its medical staff, and certain employed nurses were negligent and failed to diagnose and treat the plaintiff's stroke correctly and in a timely manner. Unable to decipher illegible signatures of certain providers in the plaintiff's hospital record, the plaintiff's attorney placed their scanned signatures in the caption of the complaint along with a "fictitious party reference" identifying each defendant as a physician or nurse and as an agent, servant, or employee of the hospital. The unidentified defendants' scanned signatures were also inserted into the body of the complaint so...

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