As you may know, causes of action for civil lawsuits generally do not last forever. Statutes of limitation cut off the time when a person may file a lawsuit. One purpose of this is to encourage individuals who have been wronged to seek justice while evidence is still available and memories are fresh. In some situations however it may not be possible or feasible to bring a lawsuit within that time period.
This is was what had apparently taken place in a recent medical malpractice case. A trial court determined that doctors were negligent in providing neonatal care and that this resulted in the severe disability of the child. When the defendants appealed they did not argue that the trial court had gotten the central question of negligence wrong, but that the family had waited too long before filing their case.
In some situations, even where there is a specific statute of limitations during which a case is supposed to be filed, the deadline can be extended if there are extenuating circumstances. Sometimes the negative effects of doctor's error may take years to manifest, or the patient may initially have no reason to suspect that their ailment was the result of malpractice. The appellate court in this case apparently agreed with the family that they had no knowledge and no reason to know that the doctor's negligence had caused the brain damage.
In the initial trial court case the court accepted the family's arguments that the doctor's should have noticed the symptoms of neonatal infection and that measures should have been taken which could have reduced the likelihood of brain damage. The young boy ended up a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy.
Source: Daily Herald "$29 million verdict upheld for Gurnee boy," Sept. 1, 2011