DONALD BRIERE et al. v. GREATER HARTFORD ORTHOPEDIC GROUP, P.C., et al., SC 19576

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

      Relation Back Doctrine; Statute of Limitations; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that Allegations in Amended Complaint Were not Time Barred Because they Related Back to Original Complaint.  The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action against surgeon David Kruger and his medical group, seeking to recover damages from a spinal cord injury he sustained while undergoing surgery.  The original complaint alleged that Kruger "failed to perform a safe and effective operation" and that he improperly positioned the plaintiff during the surgery.  The plaintiff subsequently disclosed an expert witness who opined that the plaintiff’s injury was caused by the negligent placement of a retractor blade during surgery.  The plaintiff then sought to amend his complaint to add allegations regarding the retractor blade.  The court denied the motion to amend, concluding that the allegations in the proposed amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint and that the amendment added a new negligence claim that was barred by the statute of limitations.  The defendants then moved for summary judgment, claiming that the plaintiff could not produce expert testimony in support of the negligence theory pursued in his original complaint.  The trial court rendered judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court improperly concluded that his proposed amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint and therefore that his allegations concerning the retractor blade were time barred.  The Appellate Court (158 Conn. App. 66) reversed, concluding that the amended allegations related back to the allegations in the original complaint and that the trial court took too narrow a view of the original complaint.  It found that the original complaint put the defendants on notice of the plaintiff's theory of the case, which was that the defendants were negligent during the surgery, and that the structure of the original complaint illustrated that the allegations regarding the plaintiff's positioning were not meant to supersede the overarching allegation that Kruger was somehow negligent in performing the surgery.  The Appellate Court also noted that, while there was some uncertainty as to the precise mechanism of the plaintiff’s injury, the defendants were put on fair notice of the plaintiff’s retractor claim within the statute of limitations.  The defendants appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly found that the trial court misapplied the relation back doctrine when it refused to allow the plaintiff to amend his complaint.