Almost every type of legal claim is governed by an applicable statute of limitation that limits the amount of time a plaintiff has to bring legal action to redress his or her grievance. Among the shortest statutes of limitation is the one that limits the time a plaintiff has to bring a medical malpractice action. Under Georgia law, a plaintiff has only two years to bring his or her claim. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-71 (a). However, a key question that often arises in such cases is when the statute of limitation begins to run. This determination was the central issue in the Georgia Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Beamon v. Mahadevan.
The events leading to Beamon began in October 2007 when the plaintiff, complaining of what he thought was severe indigestion, went to a physician who after reviewing the results of an electrocardiogram immediately sent the plaintiff to the hospital. Doctors at the hospital determined the plaintiff needed cardiac bypass surgery and a mitral valve replacement. Six days later, the defendant in this case performed a four-vessel coronary artery bypass on the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleges that during this surgery, the defendant replaced the plaintiff’s poorly performing mitral valve with a bio-prosthetic one that was inappropriately sized. The plaintiff further alleged that the valve was negligently sutured to leaflet tissue as opposed to the proper tissue for suture, the annulus of the heart. Only a few months after the surgery, the plaintiff began to experience breathing trouble, fatigue, and exhaustion. The plaintiff’s condition continued to worsen, and by June 2008 the plaintiff was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and a heart murmur. In March 2009, the plaintiff underwent a transesophageal echocardiogram that showed a significant heart valve leak. The following week, the plaintiff underwent a second surgery to replace the existing mitral valve replacement with a larger one. The surgeon who performed the second surgery observed the alleged errors in the suture job of the first surgery. The plaintiff originally brought suit against the first surgeon in December 2010 but voluntarily dismissed the suit. However, the plaintiff then filed a renewal action in October 2011, seeking damages for medical negligence. Following some discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, and the trial court granted the motion.