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Federal District Court allows Tolling of Statute of Limitations for a Mentally Ill Man who suffered

The New York Law Journal reports that "A mentally ill man who lost his leg after members of a Korean church tied him down with duct tape so they could pray over him can move forward with his lawsuit over the 'religious healing,' a federal judge has ruled."

After a conservator was appointed, this gentlemen was able to get the medications he needed and receive the proper physical care. Why did he suffer the amputation you ask? This Korean church bound the man in such a way to cut off the circulation to his leg. Praying over him at times, the group noticed that the leg had changed colors and became gangrenous. The case is an interesting one but what is important for this blog is the statute of limtations.

The statute of limitations is a clock, a toll, on when one can bring a lawsuit. Many of the claims the plaintiff sought to bring here were barred by a one year statute of limitations: false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery, each of which has a one-year statute of limitations. See N.Y. C.P.L.R. §215(3) (providing explicit one-year statute of limitations for false imprisonment, assault, and battery); Kourkoumelis v. Arnel, 655 N.Y.S.2d 653 (N.Y. App. Div. 1997) (applying N.Y. C.P.L.R. §215's one-year limitation period to intentional infliction of emotional distress claim); see also Kwarren v. Am. Airlines, 757 N.Y.S.2d 105, 106 (N.Y. App. Div. 2003) (same). One should note (especially if you feel your civil rights are violated) that assault, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims brought against a municipality may be subject to additional time restrictions, such as the General Municipal Law requirements in New York State.

After being deprived of his medication and suffering an amputation, appropriate care was given to this man and a lawsuit was brought after the year statute of limitations.

The Court here observes that:

New York law provides for statutory tolling of certain actions, however, as a result of a plaintiff's insanity. The relevant statute provides:

If a person entitled to commence an action is under a disability because of…insanity at the time the cause of action accrues,…if the time otherwise limited is less than three years, the time shall be extended by the period of disability.

N.Y. C.P.L.R. §208....

The insanity toll applies to "'individuals who are unable to protect their legal rights because of an over-all inability to function in society.'" Carmichael v. Hobbs, 371 F. App'x 155, 157 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting McCarthy v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 435 N.E.2d 1072, 1073 (N.Y. 1982)). If a defendant can demonstrate that a claim "facially falls outside the limitations period," the burden shifts to the plaintiff to "show that §208 is applicable and tolling is appropriate." Bejaoui v. City of New York, No. 13-CV-5667, 2015 WL 1529633, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Although mental illness alone does not compel statutory tolling for insanity and New York courts have suggested that the insanity tolling provision should be interpreted narrowly, see McCarthy, 435 N.E.2d at 1074, allegations of paranoid schizophrenia, suicidal behavior, and hospitalizations can justify tolling. See Cairl v. Cnty. of Westchester, 542 N.Y.S.2d 199 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989) (upholding decision that a plaintiff was "insane" under §208 where she suffered from "paranoid schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder with symptoms of hallucinations and impulsive suicidal behavior necessitating frequent and multiple hospitalizations, constant medication and psychotherapy"); Grasso v. Matarazzo, 733 N.Y.S.2d 100, 101 (N.Y. App. Div. 2001) (finding tolling permissible because plaintiff could not "function in society" and "uncontradicted medical testimony established that the plaintiff suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia").

Plaintiff's allegations indicate that he sustained his injuries, at the latest, on October 12, 2012, when his right leg was amputated above the knee. (Compl. at ¶33.) The statute of limitations ran for the relevant claims on October 12, 2013, one year later. This suit was not filed until November 26, 2013, (ECF No. 1, Complaint), 45 days after the limitations period had expired. Defendants have therefore met their burden of showing that the claims facially fall outside the statute of limitations. Plaintiff does not dispute that fact. Plaintiff has, however, alleged a history of severe mental illness, including diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and a history of seizure disorder. (Compl. at ¶10.) He took prescription medication to treat these illnesses and "required periods of hospitalization." (Id.) The complaint characterizes plaintiff as unable "to make informed decisions" or to "fully appreciate the nature" of defendants' request for him to move to New York. (Id. at ¶17.) Plaintiff alleges that these mental health problems, including psychotic symptoms, were exacerbated by the events giving rise to this action. (Id. at ¶¶34-40.) He was institutionalized after the loss of his leg, and "placed in a nursing facility requiring 24/7 supervision." (Id. at ¶¶34, 38.) A conservator has been appointed to represent his interests. (Id. at ¶1.)

Applying an "insanity toll," the Court allowed the case to proceed. The case is an important reminder to practitioners and litigants alike, be wary of the statute of limitations. Speak to a lawyer immediately should you think you have a claim, whether it is for a construction accident or a civil rights violation.

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