Malpractice limit overturned

A decision Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court gives parents more time to file lawsuits against doctors for anguish they suffer when their children are victims of medical malpractice. The ruling extends the window in which parents can file lawsuits from one year up to the child's 19th birthday.

The unanimous decision was based on claims brought by the parents of 17-year-old Tara Fehrenbach of Loveland. For parents of a child injured by medical negligence, the decision means they will not be put in position of filing a lawsuit within a year of the injury when the impact of the injury is not fully known. Under the old system, parents had one year from the time of injury to file a suit, while the child had until his or her 19th birthday to sue.

For doctors, the decision means they are exposed longer to potential lawsuits, but it might lessen litigation because both the parents' and child's claims likely will come at the same time. "Rarely do we get the opportunity to change Ohio law for the better, but the Fehrenbach v. O'Malley case released today ... finally recognizes how goofy it was that a parent had to bring suit before the child's statute of limitations had run (out)," said First District Court of Appeals Judge Sylvia Hendon, who wrote the original decision.

The Fehrenbachs' lawyer, said the decision is a victory for both sides of the litigation. "It eliminates the duplication and possibility of contradictory results," he said. Tara suffered permanent injuries as a result of bacterial meningitis that she contracted as an infant in 1990. The Fehrenbachs' lawyer, said because the meningitis wasn't caught quickly enough, vessels in her brain that drain spinal fluid were destroyed. They were replaced by a shunt and tube, but they can clog. A clog not caught within hours can be deadly.

The situation is a constant worry for the family because the only symptoms of a clog are a headache and fatigue, Metz said. Tara's parents, Gina and Thomas Fehrenbach, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tara and themselves in 1997 against her pediatrician, Kathryn O'Malley, and O'Malley's employer, Suburban Pediatric Associates. They claimed negligence because the defendants failed to diagnose and treat the meningitis that led to Tara's health problems. The Fehrenbachs' case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out. The couple appealed and the 1st District Court of Appeals reinstated the claim last year. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Wednesday.

As for Tara, she lost her case in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. She appealed the jury's decision and 1st District determined the case should be retried because the defendant's lawyer made inappropriate comments during the trial. No date has been set for the retrial.

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