GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:
George A. Lavallee, Jr., appeals from a summary judgment dismissing his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against several defendants and partially dismissing his claim against other defendants. The court below expressly determined that there was no just reason for delay and entered a final judgment, as provided by Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We reverse in part.
Facts and Proceedings Below
On January 10, 1978, Lavallee filed a pro se complaint seeking monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief against Carlo Listi, the sheriff of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, Jack Eastwood, the former warden of the Lafayette Parish Jail, various deputy sheriffs and other law enforcement officials of Lafayette Charity Hospital ("hospital"), and various unknown doctors, nurses and medical staff of the hospital. Lavallee alleges
Reading the allegations of Lavallee's complaint liberally, as we must, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), we distinguish three separate types of allegations. First, he claims that he was assaulted on September 8, 1976, by both sheriff's deputies and medical personnel, and forced to submit to a spinal tap. Second, he alleges that sheriff's office personnel failed to provide him medical attention until February 3, 1977. Third, he alleges that the spinal tap was performed negligently, an allegation of medical malpractice.
Defendants' answer denied all material allegations of the complaint. Defendants later all moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's cause of action was barred by the one-year prescriptive period provided by Louisiana law.
The trial court, relying on Louisiana law, granted defendants' motions with respect to all claims except those seeking damages for incidents which occurred after January 10, 1977.
Federal or State Law
The trial court applied the Louisiana prescriptive period to determine which claims of Lavallee were time-barred. It was correct to apply the state statute of limitations in this § 1983 action. See, e. g., Kissinger v. Foti, 544 F.2d 1257, 1258 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam). However, in such a suit, "even though a state statute [of limitations] is applied, the question when a federal cause of action accrues is a matter of federal, not state law." Donaldson v. O'Connor, 493 F.2d 507, 529 (5th Cir. 1974) (footnote omitted), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975); accord, Briley v. State of California, 564 F.2d 849, 855 (9th Cir. 1977); Cox v. Stanton, 529 F.2d 47, 50 (4th Cir. 1975).
The Federal Standard
It is not hard to state the federal standard governing the accrual of a cause of action under § 1983: "[f]ederal law holds that the time of accrual is when plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action." Cox, supra, 529 F.2d at 50; accord, Bireline v. Seagondollar, 567 F.2d 260, 263 (4th Cir. 1977). Although simple to state, this standard can be exceedingly difficult to apply to concrete fact situations. A brief discussion of the differences between the various possible standards may be helpful here in explaining the appropriate test.
We perceive at least four possible times at which a cause of action for medical malpractice could accrue. Probably the simplest standard to administer, at least in most situations, is one which deems the cause of action to accrue at the moment of physical injury. This standard is inconsistent with the language quoted above, and has clearly been rejected. See Cox, supra. Although the "moment of injury" standard has the significant advantage of often avoiding factual controversy, it has the even more significant disadvantage of often unfairly foreclosing legitimate claims which, through no fault of the plaintiff, are not discovered until after the statute of limitations has expired.
At the other extreme is a standard which would start the statute running only when the plaintiff was aware or should have been aware that his legal rights had been invaded. This requires not only a knowledge of the fact of and extent of the injury, but also an awareness of the causal connection between the defendants' acts and the injury, and of the applicable legal standard. This standard is also foreclosed by precedent. See United States v. Kubrick, ___ U.S. ___, 100 S.Ct. 352, 62 L.Ed.2d 259 (1979).
Between these extremes are two other standards, and possible variants. One would hold that a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff becomes aware or should become aware of his injury; the other, when the plaintiff is, or should be, aware of both the injury and its connection with the acts of defendant. Both of these variants are consistent with the language from Cox, supra, quoted, at page 1130 of this opinion.
We believe the latter standard is required by the Supreme Court's opinion in Kubrick, supra. There, the Supreme Court distinguishes between plaintiff's knowledge of the "factual predicate for a malpractice claim," i. e., "the fact of his injury [and] its cause," and awareness that a legal wrong has been done. See id., ___ U.S. at ___, 100 S.Ct. at 359 & n.8. By making this distinction, the Supreme Court has rejected the standard which would allow the statute of limitations to commence running before the plaintiff was or should have been aware of the causal connection between his injury and the acts of defendants. Until the plaintiff is in possession of the "critical facts that he has been hurt and who has inflicted the injury," id., the statute of limitations does not commence to run.
For the malpractice claim here, we lack sufficient facts to apply the standard.
We turn briefly to plaintiff's other claims. The assault claim is clearly barred by Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations for tort claims.
Because the trial court applied Louisiana law rather than federal law to decide when plaintiff's § 1983 cause of action accrued, we reverse in part and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, and REMANDED.
Until the plaintiff has reason to believe that the effects of a surgical procedure are different from those anticipated, it cannot be said that the plaintiff is aware of the injury which is the basis of his action. In Cox, supra, the plaintiff was a woman who had undergone sterilization. She believed the sterilization could be reversed by another surgical procedure, but later discovered that she would be permanently unable to bear children. When she filed suit, her claim would have been time-barred if her cause of action accrued at the time of the operation, but within the limitations period if measured from the time she discovered the permanence of the operation. The court held that the cause of action accrued only when she discovered that her sterilization was permanent.