The court ruled the lower court erred in failing to apply certain tolling provisions and discovery rules that would have allowed her to present evidence central to her case.
In Williams v. CMO Mgmt., the patient in question was an Alzheimer’s sufferer who resided at defendant facility for a decade, from June 2001 to June 2011. Following his death in early July 2011, plaintiff, as representative of decedent’s estate, filed a lawsuit alleging personal injury and wrongful death as a result of neglect and abuse patient suffered while a patient at facility. Plaintiff also sought damages in connection with systemic issues at the nursing home related to understaffing, poor allocation of resources and budgeting and problems with certain policies and procedures. She wanted to recover for injuries her father had sustained from 2009 until his death.
At all times relevant, decedent was mentally incompetent.
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff failed to meet the applicable statute of limitations for all claims that accrued prior to April 2011. Specifically, the medical malpractice liability act in that state (similar to Florida) allows just two years in which to file a claim. In response, plaintiff argued not all of her claims fell under the umbrella of the medical malpractice act, as some did not involve medical treatment. She also argued that the discovery rule tolled her claims because she didn’t find out about the alleged abuse until much later.
Trial court decided to apply the two-year statute of limitations and opined any claims arising from the care and treatment provided by the nursing home prior to April 2011 were time-barred. The effect of that ruling was that plaintiff was limited to introducing evidence of injuries that occurred between April 2011 and the time of decedent’s death in early July 2011.
The case went to trial and jurors determined defendant violated appropriate standards of care, ascertaining that 75 percent of negligence was medical and the rest non-medical (due to inadequate staffing and/or training). Jurors awarded $100,000 in damages – $10,000 for damages suffered by decedent and $90,000 to his estate for wrongful death.
In seeking a new trial, plaintiff argued trial court erred in refusing to apply the discovery rule tolling provision to the statute of limitations.
West Virginia Supreme Court accepted review and noted the crux of plaintiff’s argument was that because decedent was incapacitated prior to his death, the two-year statute of limitations was prevented from running until the point of his death, and therefore, plaintiff should have been allowed to introduce evidence for the two years prior to his death, rather than just the two months prior to his death.
Both parties in this case agree the two-year statute of limitations was controlling here, but the dispute was which two-year period that involved. With regard to the discovery rule, the court noted that while the existence of decedent’s pressure ulcers were known to his legal guardian immediately, there was a lack of an appointed legal representative at that time that creates an issue as to when his injuries were subject to discovery. Defendant argues the medical power of attorney was sufficient to plaintiff’s charge of her knowledge for statute of limitations purposes. The state high court, however, disagreed. A person who has medical power of attorney can make medical decisions for that individual, but does not have the authority to make binding legal decisions for an incapacitated person. Therefore,the provision was tolled.
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Williams v. CMO Mgmt., May 19, 2016, West Virginia Supreme Court
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