Limitation Period Not Postponed Where “Injuries Prove to be More Severe Than Initially Believed”
Today the BC Court of Appeal published reasons for judgement upholding the dismissal of a medical malpractice claim that was brought out of time.
In today’s case (Bell v. Wigmore) the Defendant “ performed a syringing procedure, irrigating and flushing” the Plaintiff’s ear. The Plaintiff alleged this was done negligently and as a result the Plaintiff went on to suffer from long term dysfunction. The Plaintiff started the lawsuit almost 6 years after the incident when the applicable limitation period was two years.
The case was dismissed at trial and the Plaintiff appealed arguing the limitation period should have been postponed because in the initial period “he had every reason to believe that his injuries were transient and relatively minor”.
The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal finding there was no good reason to postpone the running of the limitation period. In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following legal summary:
23] The mere fact that injuries prove to be more severe than initially believed will not serve to postpone the running of the limitation period: Peixeiro v. Haberman,  3 S.C.R. 549; Craig v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2005 BCCA 275. On the other hand, where it can be shown that the injuries were not, initially, sufficiently serious that a reasonable person would seek advice concerning a lawsuit, the running of the limitation period may be postponed to a time when the seriousness of the injuries became evident.
 In Brooks v. Jackson, the plaintiff experienced a hemorrhage following the birth of her child. She was advised that “she should expect to be unwell for approximately two years, the length of time it would take to get her blood back and recover from the delivery.” Some four years later, she was diagnosed with Sheehan’s Syndrome, and soon after determined that the syndrome could have been brought on by the hemorrhage.
 This Court found that the limitation period did not start to run until the plaintiff was diagnosed with Sheehan’s Syndrome:
 In my opinion, a reasonable person in the position of Ms. Brooks would not have sought legal advice or further medical advice prior to the diagnosis of Sheehan’s Syndrome. She was advised in January 1998 she had no physical sequela from the delivery and she was satisfied with the answers Dr. Jackson gave to her questions. A reasonable person, in those circumstances, would not seek legal advice to determine whether there was a cause of action against Dr. Jackson. Ms. Brooks had no reason to believe that the temporary loss of blood had caused a permanent injury of a qualitatively different nature. It is my view that a reasonable person would not have sought legal advice until realizing the damage was more than transient in nature. Accordingly, the running of time in the limitation period was postponed until Ms. Brooks was diagnosed with Sheehan’s Syndrome, and the limitation period had not expired prior to the commencement of the action.
 Brooks does not stand for the proposition that the running of a limitation period is postponed whenever a plaintiff has reason to believe that a condition will eventually subside. The question of whether a reasonable person would seek further advice turns on a number of factors. A court must consider the apparent severity of the injury and the duration and magnitude of its impact on the plaintiff’s lifestyle. A court will also consider whether, in the circumstances of the case, the plaintiff had good reason to suspect that someone was at fault in causing their injuries.
 In Brooks, legal and medical advice, if taken early on, might have led the plaintiff to understand that she had a reasonable cause of action. It would not, however, have been reasonable for her to take such advice, as she was unaware that she had suffered serious harm, and had little reason to suspect that the harm she had suffered was a result of negligence.