Florida, like all other states, has strict limitations on the window of time in which a person can file a lawsuit alleging negligence resulting in injury or wrongful death. However, Fort Lauderdale nursing home abuse lawyers are familiar with several circumstances under which that window can be lengthened, or “tolled.”
The limitations and exceptions depend on the kind of negligence alleged, as well as the circumstances surrounding the case.
In Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., the Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled the statute of limitations could be tolled when the true cause of a nursing home patient’s death had been concealed from her family until after the original limit for a wrongful death action had expired.
According to court records, the elderly patient resided at a nursing home in suburban Indiana. It was well-known to her loved ones that she had a medical condition that made her prone to falling, and she had sustained injuries in the past due to such incidents.
Her family was not surprised, then, when the nursing home called and said she was being transported to the hospital, due to an earlier fall, after which she began vomiting. Less than two weeks after she was admitted to the hospital, she died as a result of the head injury she had sustained.
Almost three years passed. In Indiana, the statute of limitations on negligence actions is three years. (Florida Statute 95.11 holds in this state, people have four years to bring a negligence claim, except in cases of wrongful death of medical malpractice, when claims must be brought within two years.)
Then, a former employee of the nursing home paid a visit to the deceased woman’s daughter. She informed her that the woman had not sustained the head injury during a fall, but rather when another resident had attacked her and pushed her to the floor.
A year later, the woman’s two daughters filed for position as co-personal representatives of her estate for purposes of pursuing a wrongful death action, which was filed a year later. The lawsuit claimed the nursing home had negligently caused the death of their mother, and then acted fraudulently to conceal that negligence.
The nursing home moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the statute of limitations on wrongful death action had passed and further, even if concealment had it occurred, it could not toll the statutory time period.
The trial court granted the nursing home’s motion. When the daughters appealed, the appellate court ruled that while fraudulent concealment of negligence does establish an exception to the statute of limitations, it does not result in a new date of commencement. Rather, the court ruled, it established grounds for an equitable exception, meaning the plaintiff would have to initiate the action within a “reasonable” amount of time after discovery. Here, the court ruled the plaintiffs waited too long to open the estate and file the complaint.
Again, the daughters appealed, arguing that the discovery of the concealment should re-set the statute of limitations clock entirely. In the alternative, they argued if the “reasonable time” standard was applicable, the nursing home failed to prove there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the complaint was filed within a reasonable time frame.
The state supreme court ruled that if the plaintiff could establish fraudulent concealment, then a wrongful death action could be tolled. Thus, the case was remanded for trial.
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Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., June 3, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
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Florida Supreme Court Affirms Reversal of $900M Nursing Home Abuse Verdict, May 25, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog