A federal court affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a federally-run nursing home that was accused of negligence in the wrongful death of an elderly resident who fell while unsupervised. The reason plaintiff could not prevail, despite filing the case within the applicable state statute of limitations for wrongful death actions, was that it was the federal statute of limitations that actually applied.
As justices for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit wrote: “To be sure, it is unfortunate when a potentially important claim is lost because a deadline is missed.” Nonetheless, the court wrote, it’s the necessary result when a claimant fails to properly assert the claim within the designated statute of limitations, without which claims would be filed long after the ability to recreate what happened would be feasible.
Although this is understandable, it is a nonetheless disappointing outcome, and one that underscores the importance of immediately seeking a consultation with an experienced nursing home injury lawyer at the first suspicion that negligence may have been the cause of a a nursing home injury or death.
Nursing home falls are a serious and ongoing problem in nursing homes across the country, and they are often indicative of sub-standard elder care. That’s why we always recommend reaching out to a lawyer, particularly if the resulting injuries were serious. It doesn’t guarantee you have a case, but it will help you to preserve evidence and properly file the claim if you do.
According to court records, this was a sad case wherein plaintiff, long the primary caregiver for his elderly father, had to leave the state for a trip. He arranged for his father to be cared for at a local “respite facility,” which is another name for a short-term nursing home facility. This particular facility was operated by the U.S. Public Health Service division of the federal government.
Within just two days of his stay, decedent fell in a hallway. This fall was reportedly not witnessed by staffers. However, the following day staffers noted that he was “in distress.” He was transported to a local hospital and his son summoned to return from his trip. The following day, the patient was moved to hospice care and the day after that, he died.
Twenty-six days later, the state issued a death certificate, specifying decedent died of a bleed on the brain resulting from an unwitnessed fall at a nursing home. Plaintiff requested his father’s medical records, and received some but not all. In probate court almost six months after his father’s death, he listed as an asset a “wrongful death action regarding a nursing home.” A month after that, plaintiff received the rest of the medical records he requested, which detail the location and proximate cause of decedent’s injury.
Plaintiff contends that it was not until he received these records that the cause of action accrued. His father died in March 2012. Plaintiff formally filed his claim for damages for the deadly nursing home fall in July 2014. That was several months past the two-year statute of limitations for federal cases.
Defendant moved for summary judgment on these grounds. Plaintiff argued defendant fraudulently concealed certain medical records and that his cause of action didn’t arise until October 2012 or alternatively that the statute of limitations should be tolled for the government’s fraudulent concealment.
The court did not agree with plaintiff’s argument, reasoning that the latest possible time at which the action could have accrued would have been when the death certificate was issued, with the cause of death listed.
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Camerano v. United States, April 19, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Concussions, Brain Injuries From Falls in Nursing Homes Occurring at “Unprecedented” Rates, April 25, 2017, Nursing Home Fall Attorney Blog