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RI Supreme Court rules on malpractice suits

A recent ruling by the Rhode Island Supreme Court will have an impact on malpractice suits filed on behalf of disabled children.

The court's opinion is about 30 pages long, but the point can be summed up in a sentence: Parents have only three years from the injury of a child to file a malpractice lawsuit.

"At a time when we're all trying to get greater civil rights for minorities across the country, think about this decision, which reduces the civil rights of the most innocent minority of all -- disabled children," said Mark Brice, a defense attorney.

Brice has been defending children in malpractice suits since 1981.

"Parents come to me and say, 'Why is my child injured?' The answer isn't always because someone screwed up," Brice said. "But where it was avoidable, and where we believe there was a basis for going forward, then we file a lawsuit."

Up until a few weeks ago, Brice could file a lawsuit on behalf of a child until that child was 18. But now, based on the court's opinion, a malpractice suit must be filed within three years of the incident.

Brice said it's a bad ruling.

"Just assume for a moment that a child is injured at birth. The parents don't really know for certain why or how it happened, but they're told the injury will get better with age and so they wait. They go through physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy for years and then when the child's ready for school it becomes frighteningly obvious that the child is really delayed and isn't catching up," Brice said.

The rest of the law is intact. It allows the child to file a lawsuit when he or she is 18 up until the age of 21. But by then, Brice said, it may be too late for the right treatment.

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