Ratcliff v. Graether, No. 03-1816.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtLavorato
Citation697 N.W.2d 119
Decision Date10 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-1816.
PartiesBruce L. RATCLIFF, Appellant, v. John M. GRAETHER and Wolfe Clinic, P.C., Appellees.
697 N.W.2d 119
Bruce L. RATCLIFF, Appellant,
v.
John M. GRAETHER and Wolfe Clinic, P.C., Appellees.
No. 03-1816.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
May 13, 2005.
Rehearing Denied June 10, 2005.

Page 120

John W. Holmes of Holmes & Holmes, Waterloo, for appellant.

Robert C. Rouwenhorst of Rouwenhorst & Brown, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellees.

LAVORATO, Chief Justice.


In this medical malpractice action, the plaintiff, Bruce L. Ratcliff, appeals from a district court ruling sustaining a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants, John M. Graether, M.D. and Wolfe Clinic, P.C. At issue is whether the continuous treatment doctrine tolled the statute of limitations. Because we conclude the doctrine did not toll the statute, we affirm.

I. Background Facts.

Wolfe Clinic, P.C. sponsored an orientation seminar, which Ratcliff attended, that provided information on elective surgery designed to reduce or eliminate the need to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. At that seminar, Norman F. Woodlief, M.D. of the clinic talked about various surgical

Page 121

techniques that were available, which involved removing tissue from the cornea.

On April 30, 1996, Ratcliff pursued this treatment at which time Graether of the Wolfe Clinic performed surgery on Ratcliff's right eye. That eye had a negative twelve diopters myopia reading prior to surgery.

On April 9, 1997, Graether performed an "enhancement" surgery on the eye. Enhancement surgeries remove additional tissue and further flatten the cornea. Such surgeries are often performed because surgeons choose to err on the side of undercorrection with the first surgery.

Ratcliff described how the enhancement surgery improved his vision:

[F]rom the moment it was uncovered the day following the surgery, the vision was clear and much improved over what I'd had prior to any surgery, and I felt that if I could get vision in my left eye as good as what I was now seeing in the right eye that this would be a benefit.

On April 30 Graether performed LASIK surgery on Ratcliff's left eye, which had a negative ten diopters myopia reading. After this surgery, Ratcliff said his vision was "very clouded" and "terrible" compared to what had happened just less than a month before on the right eye.

On May 13 Graether told Ratcliff he might have overcorrected the left eye. A week later, Graether told Ratcliff that a cataract was forming on that eye, which was not present prior to the surgery. The cataract formation, according to Graether, was just a coincidence.

At some point in 1997, Graether stopped seeing patients in the Wolfe Clinic's Cedar Falls office, where Graether had seen Ratcliff. Graether chose to see patients only in the clinic's Marshalltown office. From that time forward, Todd W. Gothard, M.D. treated Graether's Cedar Falls patients and kept Graether informed of their progress.

On December 23 Ratcliff saw Richard C. Mauer, M.D., an ophthalmologist and ophthalmic surgeon, because of the cataract formation. In his deposition, Ratcliff explained more fully why he saw Mauer and what Mauer told him:

I was still having a great deal of problem with my eye. I, frankly, had doubted their explanation of the cataract as being the cause, and so in the interim I had gone to Dr. Mauer for a second opinion as to the effect of the cataract. And I was told by Dr. Mauer that, yes, there was a very small, tiny cataract forming, but that it would not be perceptible to me at that stage, and he didn't believe that the cataract would account for my visual problems.

....

Q. What did you tell Dr. Mauer? A. Well, to the best of my recollection, the general theme of it was that I had serious visual problems with the left eye and that both Dr. Graether and Dr. Gothard told me it was due to a cataract, and I didn't think the timing made much sense, and I wanted his opinion.

....

Q. What did Dr. Mauer tell you he thought was wrong with your left eye when you saw him in December of 1997? A. He told me that he thought that the surface of my cornea was irregular.

Q. And did he offer an opinion to you that that was probably related to the LASIK surgery that you had had on your left eye? A. I think he was careful not to accuse anybody of anything. But that was clearly the message that I got.

Q. All right. So he made it clear to you that — or at least the impression that you had when you left his office in December of 1997 was that the LASIK

Page 122

procedure that you had had on April 30 of 1997 had caused some irregularity in your cornea; correct? A. Yes, that's correct.

....

Q. So in the December visit of 1997 with Dr. Mauer, you believe that your problem was vision in your left eye related to an irregularity of your cornea; correct? A. That's correct.

....

Q. But in December of 1997, you left Dr. Mauer's office with the impression that the April 30, 1997 LASIK procedure was the cause of your visual problems? A. Yes.

Mauer examined Ratcliff on several occasions from December 23, 1997 through February 14, 2002.

Ratcliff saw Gothard on November 18, 1998, and Gothard's medical notes of that visit state:

[Ratcliff] apparently had gotten a second opinion sometime since the last visit when I saw him, with Dr. Mauer who told him he had no effect or very little effect from the cataract and that it was mainly a problem with the LASIK surgery that was causing his vision to be blurry....

....

He is absolutely convinced that the LASIK surgery on the OS has made the cataract and also made his vision blurry. I have told him that there is absolutely no known association between LASIK and cataract formation. He was extremely confrontational and said that there is no way that we can know for sure that this did not cause the cataract, or cause his vision to be blurry.... [H]e really has his mind made up already regarding the cause of his problem. He is very reluctant to get glasses. He says the surgery was an entire waste, and now he has poor vision. I've told him that he may have had a mild amount of myopic regression from the surgery, but I would be a little reluctant to perform any additional laser surgery at this juncture due to the fact that there is a cataract forming and the refraction has been changing.

On November 20, 1998, Graether wrote Ratcliff telling him that the cataract was "merely coincidence" and had nothing to do with the surgery to the eye. Graether also wrote that because of the developing cataract no further refractive surgery should be done to improve Ratcliff's vision. "[A]ny improvement," wrote Graether, "would only be transient."

In a letter dated February 22, 2002, Mauer opined that Ratcliff's poor vision was due to an irregular astigmatism. He attributed the condition to several factors, including the surgical procedures employed to treat Ratcliff's left eye.

II. Proceedings.

On November 16, 2000, Ratcliff sued Graether and Wolfe Clinic. Ratcliff alleged that the...

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17 practice notes
  • Forshey v. Jackson, No. 33834.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 19, 2008
    ...that the statute of limitation in a medical malpractice action begins to run at the time of the misdiagnosis."); Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 125 (Iowa 2005) ("We need not decide whether we should reject the continuous treatment doctrine outright in all circumstances."); Toas v. Sh......
  • Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, No. 07-0127.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2009
    ...of Review. We review a district court's order on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa 2005). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows there is no genuine issue of material fact. Berte v. Bode, 692 N......
  • Rathje v. Mercy Hosp., No. 04-2081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 22, 2008
    ...plaintiff did not know of the physician's wrongful conduct. Id. We last considered the statute of limitations in Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119 (Iowa 2005). In that case, the plaintiff experienced blurry vision following LASIK eye surgery. Id. at 121. Relying on our view in Schlote th......
  • Wilson v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., No. 04-0864.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 12, 2006
    ...whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa IV. Is Farm Bureau Bound By the Amended Judgment Entry in Suit I? In denying the estate's motion for summary judgment, the district cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • Forshey v. Jackson, No. 33834.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 19, 2008
    ...that the statute of limitation in a medical malpractice action begins to run at the time of the misdiagnosis."); Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 125 (Iowa 2005) ("We need not decide whether we should reject the continuous treatment doctrine outright in all circumstances."); Toas v. Sh......
  • Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, No. 07-0127.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2009
    ...of Review. We review a district court's order on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa 2005). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows there is no genuine issue of material fact. Berte v. Bode, 692 N......
  • Rathje v. Mercy Hosp., No. 04-2081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 22, 2008
    ...plaintiff did not know of the physician's wrongful conduct. Id. We last considered the statute of limitations in Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119 (Iowa 2005). In that case, the plaintiff experienced blurry vision following LASIK eye surgery. Id. at 121. Relying on our view in Schlote th......
  • Wilson v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., No. 04-0864.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 12, 2006
    ...whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa IV. Is Farm Bureau Bound By the Amended Judgment Entry in Suit I? In denying the estate's motion for summary judgment, the district cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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