Seale v. Gowans
In Seale v. Gowans, 923 P.2d 1361 (Utah 1996), the Court faced the question of what constitutes a legally cognizable injury for purposes of the statute of limitations.
In that case, the defendants failed to detect a mass visible in Ms. Seale's mammogram, which was taken in August of 1987. Id. at 1362.
Nine months later, when the cancer was ultimately diagnosed, Ms. Seale learned of the earlier misdiagnosis, underwent a radical mastectomy, and was informed that the cancer had spread to eight lymph nodes. Id.
Three years after her diagnosis, Ms. Seale experienced a recurrence of her cancer. Id. She then filed suit, alleging that the recurrence was the result of the defendants' negligent delay in accurately diagnosing her breast cancer. Id.
As an affirmative defense, the defendants claimed that the statute of limitations had run on Ms. Seale's cause of action because the injury attributable to their alleged negligence occurred when Ms. Seale first learned that, as a result of the delayed diagnosis, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, thereby increasing her risk of a recurrence. Id. at 1364.
The Court rejected the defendants' argument. Because the defendants had failed to demonstrate that Ms. Seale had suffered a legally cognizable injury at any time prior to her recurrence of cancer, we held that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the cancer recurred. Id. at 1364.
The Court concluded that the increased risk of recurrence, as evidenced by the spread of cancer to Ms. Seale's lymph nodes, did not constitute a legally cognizable injury because, "without proof of actual damages, an alleged claim for enhanced risk is not adequate to sustain a cause of action for negligence." Id. at 1365.
Accordingly, the Court held that "damages in the form of an enhanced risk only are not sufficient to start the running of the statute of limitations." Id.