Criminal Sex Abuse or Medical Malpractice?; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

January 28, 2019

In This Article

Missed Filing-Fee Deadline Triggers a Lawsuit

A state appeals court has reversed a lower-court ruling that had effectively spelled the end of a claim brought by a Louisiana woman against four emergency department (ED) doctors, as a story in the Louisiana Record reports.[2]

Tiffany Anderson had accused those doctors of committing medical malpractice during her three separate visits to the ED, on consecutive days in June 2015, at St. Francis Medical Center, in Monroe. A year later, in accordance with a state law requiring that all medical malpractice claims be first reviewed by a professional panel, Anderson submitted a request for such a review to the Patient's Compensation Fund (PCF) Oversight Board, which oversees the process.[3]

The PCF Board acknowledged Anderson's request and advised her that a filing fee of $400—$100 per named qualified provider—should be forwarded within 45 days of the postmark of the notice, in accordance with the relevant state rule. Failure to submit the fee in a timely manner, the notice added, would void her request.

Three days before their client's deadline, Anderson's counsel mailed the required filing fee via certified mail. But that correspondence was supposedly not received until 7 days after the 45-day deadline had passed. By this point, the PCF Board had already notified Anderson's counsel of the late filing fee and of its decision to regard her claim as "invalid and without effect." Other parties to the case were also notified of this fact.

Shortly after, Anderson filed a petition for judicial review, which, although it was accepted, ended with the court supporting the PCF Board's decision. At this point, Anderson and her attorneys filed an appeal with the State of Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit.

The First Circuit's ultimate reversal of the lower-court decision turned on a straightforward question: At what point should a filing fee be considered officially received?

In answering this query, the court looked at similar cases and applied what it called the "mailbox rule," which roughly states that a filing fee mailed before the deadline—in a properly addressed, stamped, and postmarked envelope—should be considered received even if it arrives after the deadline. In the case in question, however, the court also interpreted the mailbox rule to apply to situations in which the fee arrives at the addressee's mailbox but the addressee is late in retrieving it. To hold otherwise, the court said, would be to render the 45-day payment window "meaningless."

As a result of her victory, Anderson has won the right to follow through with her original request: to have her claim reviewed by a medical panel convened by the PCF Board, which has since been directed to pay court costs in the amount of $770.

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