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30 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 533 (1996-1997)
Constitutional Law - Medical Malpractice Statute Restricting Minor's Ability to Amend Complain Withstands Equal Protection Challenge

handle is hein.journals/sufflr30 and id is 551 raw text is: Constitutional Law-Medical Malpractice Statute Restricting Minor's
Ability to Amend Complaint Withstands Equal Protection Chal-
lenge-Dowd v. Rayner, 655 A.2d 679 (R.I. 1995)
Section 9-1-14.1 of Rhode Island's General Laws governs the procedur-
al aspects of medical malpractice disputes.' Pursuant to this section, an
injured party ordinarily has three years within which to file a medical
malpractice claim.' The malpractice statute further affords protections and
qualifying restrictions when the injured party is a minor In Dowd v.
Rayner,4 the Supreme Court of Rhode Island addressed an equal protec-
tion challenge to the statute's age limitations.5 Applying minimal scrutiny,
the court upheld the statute, ruling that when a parent brings an action on
behalf of a minor, the statute's limiting provision precludes that minor
from amending the complaint after the statute's three-year limitation peri-
od has expired.
In 1986, Elizabeth J. Dowd filed a medical malpractice suit on behalf
of her injured infant-daughter, Casey M. Dowd, naming obstetrician Doug-
las A. Rayner, M.D., and Westerly Hospital as defendants.7 In 1991, after
subsequent discovery revealed that anesthesiologist Francis Palaia, M.D.,
and Casey's pediatrician, John H. McGowan, M.D., also participated in
the alleged malpractice, Elizabeth, on behalf of Casey, amended the com-
plaint to add Palaia and McGowan as defendants McGowan moved for
1. R.I. GEN. LAWS § 9-1-14.1 (1985). The statute states in relevant part [An action for medi-
cal malpractice shall be commenced within three (3) years from the time of the occurrence of the inci-
dent which gave rise to the action ... . Id.
2. Id.
3. See id at § 9-1-14.1(a) (describing age as legal disability extending statute for certain class of
minors). Section 9-1-14.1(a) provides: One who is under disability by reason of age, mental incompe-
tence or otherwise, and on whose behalf no action is brought within the period of three (3) years from
the time of the occurrence of the incident, shall bring said action within three (3) years from the re-
moval of said disability. Id. Accordingly, when a parent or legal guardian files a lawsuit on behalf of
a minor, the provisions of subsection (a) do not apply. Id.
4. 655 A.2d 679 (RI. 1995).
5. Id. at 680-82. In addition to the equal protection argument, the Dowds contended that the
statute impermissibly violates the Rhode Island Constitution's open court guarantee. Id. at 680; see
also R.L CoNtsT. art. I, §§ 2, 5 (guaranteeing equal protection of state's laws and access to state
6. 655 A.2d at 682-83.
7. Id. at 680. Elizabeth gave birth to her daughter Casey on July 5, 1984. Id. On December 11.
1986, Elizabeth and Casey filed a complaint alleging that the negligence of both Dr. Rayner and West-
erly Hospital during Casey's prenatal and postnatal care proximately caused Casey's permanent in-
juries. Id.
8. Id. This discovery emanated from Dr. McGowan's 1987 deposition testimony, in which he
revealed that Dr. Palaia had assisted in Casey's intubation following her birth. Id. Palmsa denied this
allegation in his 1993 deposition. Id. The inconsistency between McGowan's and Palaia's testimonies
prompted the Dowds to depose McGowan a second time. Id. In response, McGowan petitioned the

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