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Cefaratti v. Aranowet

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 14, 2016

LISA J. CEFARATTI
v.
JONATHAN S. ARANOWET AL.

          Argued January 21, 2016

          Ellen M. Costello, for the appellants (named defendant et al.).

          Kelly E. Reardon, with whom, on the brief, was Robert I. Reardon, Jr., for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          ROGERS, C. J.

         The issue that we must resolve in this certified appeal is whether the plaintiff’s medical malpractice action is barred by the statute of limitations or, instead, the statute of limitations was tolled under the continuing course of treatment doctrine. The plaintiff, Lisa J. Cefaratti, brought this action against the defendants, Jonathan S. Aranow, Shoreline Surgical Associates, P.C. (Shoreline), and Middlesex Hospital (Middlesex), alleging that Aranow had left a surgical sponge in the plaintiff’s abdominal cavity during gastric bypass surgery. She further alleged that Middlesex was both directly liable for its own negligence and vicariously liable for Aranow’s negligence, and Shoreline was vicariously liable for Aranow’s negligence.[1] Thereafter, Middlesex filed a motion for summary judgment claiming, among other things, that the claims against it were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, General Statutes § 52-584.[2] Aranow and Shoreline subsequently filed a joint motion for summary judgment raising the same claim. The trial court concluded that the direct claims against Aranow and Middlesex were barred by the statute of limitations and, therefore, the derivative claims against Middlesex and Shoreline were also barred. Accordingly, the trial court rendered judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the statute of limitations had been tolled by the continuing course of treatment doctrine.[3] Cefaratti v. Aranow, 154 Conn.App. 1, 22, 105 A.3d 265 (2014). We then granted Aranow and Shoreline’s petition for certification to appeal from that ruling, limited to the following issue: ‘‘Did the Appellate Court properly apply the ‘continuing course of treatment’ doctrine in determining what constitutes an ‘identifiable medical condition’ under that doctrine?’’[4]Cefaratti v. Aranow, 315 Conn. 919, 919–20, 107 A.3d 960 (2015). We answer that question in the affirmative and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         The record, which we view in the light most favorable to the plaintiff for purposes of reviewing the trial court’s rendering of summary judgment, reveals the following facts and procedural history. On December 8, 2003, after having diagnosed the plaintiff as being morbidly obese, Aranow performed gastric bypass surgery on the plaintiff at Middlesex. Thereafter, the plaintiff had follow-up appointments with Aranow on January 14, 2004, May 11, 2004, October 22, 2004, May 10, 2005, November 16, 2005, December 17, 2007 and March 20, 2009. The plaintiff testified at her deposition that, starting approximately one year after her surgery, she began to experience uncomfortable sensations in her abdomen. She described the sensations as follows: ‘‘When [the sponge] was in there it was so large that I could barely bend over without it getting caught on my ribs and the pain was very, very intense. I felt like I was carrying a child in my abdomen.’’ She further stated that she felt that ‘‘something was pushing out . . . and it felt like somebody was stabbing me . . . . [W]hen-ever I had to have a bowel movement it felt like somebody was twisting something inside of me . . . .’’ The plaintiff testified that she described these sensations exactly to Aranow at every appointment, except perhaps the first two.[5]

         On August 6, 2009, after being diagnosed with breast cancer by another physician, the plaintiff underwent a computerized tomography (CT) scan of her chest, abdomen and pelvis. The CTscan revealed the presence of foreign material in the plaintiff’s abdominal cavity. On September 9, 2009, the plaintiff met with Aranow, who informed her that the object in her abdominal cavity was a surgical sponge. After the sponge was surgically removed, she no longer had the sensations of having something caught on her ribs and of carrying a child.[6]

         On August 18, 2010, the plaintiff brought a medical malpractice action alleging that Aranow had negligently failed to remove the surgical sponge from her abdominal cavity during the gastric bypass surgery, and that Middlesex and Shoreline were both directly liable for their own negligence and vicariously liable for Aranow’s negligence. Thereafter, Middlesex filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that, because the plaintiff had not brought the action within the three year statute of repose provided for in § 52-284, [7] the action was barred. The defendants filed a separate motion for summary judgment raising the same claim. The plaintiff opposed the motions, claiming, among other things, that the statute of limitations was tolled by the continuing course of treatment doctrine.

         The trial court observed in its memorandum of decision that, to establish the elements of the continuing course of treatment doctrine, the plaintiff was required to prove: ‘‘(1) that . . . she had an identified medical condition that required ongoing treatment or monitoring; (2) that the defendant provided ongoing treatment or monitoring of that medical condition after the allegedly negligent conduct, or that the plaintiff reasonably could have anticipated that the defendant would do so; and (3) that the plaintiff brought the action within the appropriate statutory period after the date that treatment terminated.’’ (Footnotes omitted.) Grey v. Stamford Health System, Inc., 282 Conn. 745, 754–55, 924 A.2d 831 (2007). The trial court concluded that the identified medical condition at issue in the present case was the sponge in the plaintiff’s abdomen and, because the plaintiff did not know about that condition, she could not have sought treatment for it. Accordingly, it concluded that the doctrine did not apply and the action was, therefore, barred by the statute of limitations, entitling the defendants to summary judgment.

         The plaintiff appealed from the judgment to the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court concluded that the plaintiff’s morbid obesity was an identified medical condition for purposes of the continuing course of treatment doctrine and that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Aranow had provided ongoing treatment for that condition. Cefaratti v. Aranow, supra, 154 Conn.App. 21–22. Accordingly, it concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the continuing course of treatment doctrine tolled the statute of limitations; id., 22; and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court. Id., 45.

         This certified appeal followed. The defendants contend that the Appellate Court incorrectly determined that the plaintiff’s morbid obesity was an identified medical condition for purposes ofthe continuing course of treatment doctrine. Rather, the defendants contend, the plaintiff’s identified medical condition was either the retained surgical sponge, for which the plaintiff could not have sought treatment because she was unaware of it, or the plaintiff’s morbid obesity, which was not an identified medical condition for purposes of the doctrine because it did not have any connection to the injury of which she complained. The plaintiff contends that she sought treatment both for her morbid obesity and for postoperative complications, such as her abdominal discomfort. Accordingly, she contends, her abdominal discomfort was an identified medical condition for purposes of the doctrine. In turn, the defendants respond that this claim fails because the plaintiff was required to and did not establish a connection between the medical condition for which she sought treatment-her abdominal discomfort-and the alleged negligence-leaving the sponge in the plaintiff’s abdominal cavity. They further contend that, even if there is evidence that the sponge caused the plaintiff’s abdominal discomfort, the plaintiff cannot prevail because she has not alleged or presented evidence that Aranow’s continuing failure to diagnose the true cause of her discomfort was negligent.

         We conclude that, to establish that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the continuing course of treatment doctrine tolled the statute of limitations, the plaintiff was required only to present evidence that her abdominal discomfort was caused by the sponge and that she sought continuing treatment for her discomfort from Aranow. We further conclude that the plaintiff has established that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the doctrine applies.

         ‘‘The standard of review of a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment is well established. Practice Book § 17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and that the party is, therefore, entitled to judgment as a matter of law. . . . Our review of the trial court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is plenary. . . . On appeal, we must determine whether the legal conclusions reached by the trial court are legally and logically ...


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