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United States v. Kubrick

United States Supreme Court
444 U.S. 111 (1979)


The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) permits an individual to sue a federal agency in court as long as certain requirements are met. Among these statutory prerequisites are certain statutes of limitations, including a two-year statute regarding medical malpractice claims. In 1968, Kubrick (plaintiff) underwent surgery in a Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital (defendant) for an infection in his right femur. Part of the treatment involved the administration of the antibiotic neomycin. Shortly after surgery, Kubrick noticed a ringing sensation in his ear coupled with loss of hearing. In January of 1969, an ear specialist diagnosed Kubrick with bilateral nerve deafness and indicated that condition might have been caused by his neomycin treatment. Kubrick went on to make multiple requests for adjustments to his VA pension, all of which were denied. In 1971, and while appealing the VA’s denial of benefit adjustment, Kubrick became aware that his original ear doctor believed that the neomycin should never have been administered to Kubrick in the first place. This prompted Kubrick to sue for medical malpractice. The government argued that the claim had accrued in 1969, when Kubrick became aware of the condition and its cause. Kubrick argued that the statute of limitations should begin tolling in 1971, when he was made aware of the legal implications of the treatment. The district court ruled for Kubrick. The government appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which affirmed. The government appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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