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Court Reinstates Ga. Law on Malpractice Deadlines

(CN) - The 11th Circuit has reinstated a Georgia law that doesn't exempt the "legally incompetent" from the general two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims.

"[W]e hold that Georgia's legislative scheme is rationally related to a legitimate state interest," Judge Marcus wrote, referring to the state's ability to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens.

Under Georgia law, most statutes of limitations don't apply to mentally incompetent patients, except in medical malpractice claims.

The law states that "all persons who are legally incompetent because of mental retardation or mental illness ... shall be subject to the periods of limitations for actions for medical malpractice."

The district court struck down this statute as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, saying it "rests on an 'irrational prejudice' against the mentally incompetent."

Reversing, the Atlanta-based appellate panel said the lower court "overlooked the essential principle that matters of social and economic policy, particularly when they come to bear on the health and welfare of a state's citizens, are quintessentially legislative in nature."

The underlying malpractice case involved a man who developed brain damage after an infected tooth "caused huge amounts of bacteria to have been dumped into the blood stream," according to his wife's lawsuit.

Linda Deen's claims against dentist Shannon Egleston, filed on behalf of her husband, Kenneth Deen, were dismissed as having been filed too late. The alleged malpractice occurred in the summer of 2005, but Deen didn't sue until March 2008, beyond the two-year statute of limitations.

The 11th Circuit's ruling means that Deen's claims are time-barred, because Georgia law doesn't exempt the mentally incompetent from such filing deadlines in medical malpractice cases.

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