IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
No. 4-313 / 03-1008
Filed June 23, 2004
BARRY B. BABCOCK,
BROADLAWNS MEDICAL CENTER,
and SAMUEL BUNDZ, M.D.,
BRAD D. JOHNSON, M.D.,
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Donna L.
Barry Babcock appeals the grant of summary judgment to defendants
based on the statute of limitations in this medical malpractice action.
Christopher Kragnes and Jeffrey Carter, Des Moines, and Bruce H.
Stoltze of Brick, Gentry, Bowers, Swartz, Stoltze, Schuling & Levis, P.C.,
Des Moines, for appellant.
John D. Hilmes and Kermit B. Anderson of Finley, Alt, Smith,
Scharnberg, Craig, Hilmes & Gaffney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee-Samuel
David L. Brown of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for
appellee- Broadlawns Medical Center.
Heard by Sackett, C.J., and Huitink and Miller, JJ.
I. Background Facts & Proceedings
On April 4, 2001, Babcock sued Broadlawns Medical Center and
Drs. Bundz and Johnson for injuries and resulting damages allegedly caused
by negligent medical care Babcock received while a surgical patient at
Broadlawns in May 1997. The named defendants denied Babcock's allegations
of medical malpractice and moved for summary judgment dismissing Babcock's
lawsuit because it was barred by the two-year statute of limitations
governing medical malpractice claims. Babcock's claim against Dr. Johnson
was voluntarily dismissed.
The summary judgment record indicates Babcock underwent hernia
surgery at Broadlawns in May 1997. Dr. Bundz performed the surgery.
Shortly after Babcock's surgery, he began to experience right groin pain
that persisted for months. In June 1999 doctors informed Babcock that his
groin pain may be the result of a nerve injury. During a February 2000
surgery it was discovered that staples used in Babcock's May 1997 surgery
were wrapped around the nerve that was causing Babcock's symptoms.
The trial court, citing the foregoing undisputed facts as well as an
express allegation in Babcock's petition that he noticed groin pain as
early as February 1999, concluded that Babcock "clearly had persistent
complaints of right groin pain from at least February of 1999 and likely
prior to that date." The court also concluded the statute of limitations
on Babcock's malpractice claim began to run in February 1999, and Babcock's
April 4, 2001, lawsuit was therefore filed after the two-year statute of
limitations expired. Babcock's lawsuit was accordingly dismissed,
resulting in this appeal.
II. Standard of Review
We review a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment
for correction of errors of law. Financial Mktg. Servs., Inc. v. Hawkeye
Bank & Trust, 588 N.W.2d 450, 455 (Iowa 1999). Summary judgment will be
upheld when the moving party shows there are no genuine issues of material
fact and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Iowa R.
Civ. P. 1.981(3). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, we consider
the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
Crippen v. City of Cedar Rapids, 618 N.W.2d 562, 565 (Iowa 2000).
III. The Merits
Babcock contends that his lawsuit against the doctors and the
hospital was timely filed. He argues that the statute of limitations did
not begin to run until June 1999 when he was informed that his symptoms
were the result of a nerve injury. We disagree.
Iowa Code section 614.1(9) provides that a medical malpractice
lawsuit must be filed:
within two years after the date on which the claimant knew, or through
the use of reasonable diligence should have known, or received notice
in writing of the existence of, the injury or death for which damages
are sought in the action . . . .
The term "injury," as used in this section, means physical harm as
distinguished from the act causing the injury. Schlote v. Dawson, 676
N.W.2d 187, 193 (Iowa 2004).
In Langner v. Simpson, 533 N.W.2d 511, 518 (Iowa 1995), the supreme
[T]he statute begins to run when a person gains knowledge sufficient
to put the person on inquiry. On that date, the person is charged
with knowledge of facts that would have been disclosed by a reasonably
diligent investigation. Moreover, once a person is aware that a
problem exists, the person has a duty to investigate even though the
person may not have knowledge of the nature of the problem that caused
The statute of limitations begins to run at the time of injury, even though
a plaintiff is unaware of the causal relationship between the injury and
the defendant's conduct. Schlote, 676 N.W.2d at 194. The limitations
period is the legislatively mandated time for an injured person to
investigate and file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Sparks v. Metalcraft,
Inc., 408 N.W.2d 347, 351 (Iowa 1987).
Like the trial court, we conclude the statute of limitations on
Babcock's lawsuit began to run as early as February 1999, when he
acknowledged symptoms. Whether and to what extent Babcock received
conflicting or erroneous medical advice concerning the cause of his
symptoms is irrelevant. We expressly reject Babcock's claim that his
diligent efforts to determine the cause of his symptoms delayed the date on
which the statute of limitations began to run. Because Babcock knew of his
injuries no later than February 1999, his April 4, 2001, lawsuit is barred
by Iowa Code section 614.1(9). The judgment of the district court is