December 5, 2013
Frame v. Millinocket Regional Hospital, — A.3d —, 2013 WL 6237698 (Me.), 2013 ME 104 (Me. 2013)
Maine Health Security Act (MHSA) provides that, prior to filing a malpractice suit against any healthcare provider, a plaintiff must send a sworn notice of claim to each defendant and to the pre-litigation screening panel. 24 M.R.S. §§ 2903(1)(A), 2852(2) (2012). Doing so tolls Maine’s three-year limitations period for malpractice suits under 24 M.R.S. § 2902 (2012) for 90 days.
In the case at bar, the plaintiff submitted an unsworn notice of claim that the court below properly dismissed. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations has run its course. The plaintiff argued before the Maine Supreme Court that her unsworn notice of claim tolled the statute of limitations, but the Court disagreed. The Court explained that the oath requirement is far from being a technicality: its purpose is to fend off malpractice suits that are unsubstantiated or downright false. An unsworn notice of claim thus cannot properly open the proceedings against the defendant.
Luckily for the plaintiff, the Court nonetheless permitted her to amend the defective notice of claim by having it sworn to and having the amendment relate back to the original filing date. The Court based this decision on the Maine rules of civil procedure that give courts the general power to promote fairness. It also relied on the United States Supreme Court decision, Edelman v. Lynchburg College, 535 U.S. 106, 108-09, 118 (2002), that allowed a claimant who filed a charge “to verify it outside the statute of limitations and have it relate back to the filing date of the original, defective charge.” Specifically, the Court decided that the plaintiff’s procedural mistake was relatively minor and that barring her suit against the defendant would therefore be harsh and unfair.