Statute of Repose Applies To Dermatologist’s Failure To Diagnose Melanoma

A woman consulted the defendant dermatologist regarding a number of moles. Over eleven years the dermatologist took biopsies. Initially he sent these biopsies to a pathology laboratory, which determined they were noncancerous. Subsequently he examined the biopsies himself and determined they were noncancerous. Twelve years after initially consulting the dermatologist, the woman discovered a lump on her chin and consulted another physician. The lump was ultimately removed and determined to be melanoma. The biopsies examined by the dermatologist and the original pathology lab were reexamined by another pathologist. Biopsies from as much as twelve years earlier were found to exhibit signs of melanoma. Fifteen months after she was diagnosed with melanoma, the woman died.


The woman’s estate sued the dermatologist, his clinic, and the original pathology laboratory for negligence. The dermatologist and his clinic filed motions for partial summary judgment and the original pathology laboratory filed a motion for summary judgment all arguing that the statute of repose barred claims older than six years as of the filing of the negligence claim. The plaintiffs countered that the defendants fraudulently concealed the fact that the pathology laboratory had not evaluated particular biopsies and that the doctrine of continuum-of-negligent-care should apply. 


The trial court granted the defendants’ motions for partial summary judgment and summary judgment. The court held that the defendants owed no duty to disclose whether the pathology laboratory evaluated particular biopsies. The continuum-of-negligent-care doctrine did not apply to a statute of repose, which runs from the occurrence of the act causing the injury, as opposed to a statute of limitations, under which a claim accrues for injuries caused by medical negligence when the plaintiff knew, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have known, of the injury. Also, the undisputed facts in the summary judgment record revealed there was no continuing and unbroken course of negligent treatment by any defendant.


The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision holding that the fraudulent-concealment doctrine and the continuum-of-negligent-care doctrine did not apply. The fraudulent-concealment doctrine applies where the defendant has made a false representation or has concealed material facts, the plaintiff lacks knowledge of the true facts, the defendant intended the plaintiff to act upon such representations, and the plaintiff did in fact rely upon such representations to his or her prejudice. The court found there was no evidence that the woman was not informed that the dermatologist, not the pathology laboratory, evaluated a particular specimen. Additionally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the doctrine of informed consent required the dermatologist to disclose the difference in qualifications between himself and a pathologist with regard to evaluating the biopsies. The continuum-of-negligent-care doctrine, which has not been endorsed by the Iowa Supreme Court, applies where there was a continuous and unbroken course of negligent treatment and the treatment was so related as to constitute one continuing wrong. The court found there was no evidence that any of the treatment provided by the defendants within the six years prior to the filing of the claim fell below the applicable standard of care.


See: Estate of Anderson ex rel. Herren v. Iowa Dermatology Clinic, PLC, 2012 WL 2865893 (Iowa Jul 13, 2012) (not designated for publication).