Washington Law Review


Generally, statutes of limitations run from the date of the alleged wrongful act. Because the average person lacks a good understanding of medical science and may not be aware of a wrongful medical practice when it occurs, medical malpractice plaintiffs have a more difficult time filing their causes of action within the allotted period than do other plaintiffs. As a result, many courts have devised methods of extending the statutory period. Two common-law techniques have predominated in Washington: (1) the discovery rule, and (2) the continuing course of treatment rule. This comment examines the Washington courts' use of these judicial techniques to avoid strict application of the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases. Part I summarizes the development and application of the discovery rule and the continuing course of treatment rule before 1971. Part II analyzes the impact of Washington's current medical malpractice statute of limitations on these rules, with emphasis on the recent cases of Ohler v. Tacoma General Hospital and Bixler v. Bowman. This comment concludes that the statutory discovery rule, as amended in 1976, sharply restricts the judicially-created discovery rule, resulting in a clear pro-defendant bias. It concludes further that, despite language in Bixler to the contrary, the continuing course of treatment rule survives, albeit in a limited form.

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