In its unreported decision filed on March 18, 2016, the Court of Appeals of the State of Kansas (“Kansas Appellate Court”) reversed the dismissal of a Kansas medical malpractice case involving the suicide of a 28-year-old man who committed suicide shortly after being discharged from a state hospital where he had been treated for mental illness. The trial court had dismissed the Kansas medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit because the plaintiffs’ amended petition failed to list in the caption all of the defendants identified in the body of the pleading.
The Kansas medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the man’s mother on behalf of her son’s estate and as the legal representative of his minor daughter, alleging various physicians and other healthcare providers negligently treated and released her son, proximately causing his death. The lawsuit was filed four minutes before the Kansas statute of limitations expired and identified more than 20 defendants in the body of the petition but the caption listed only three defendants (the hospital itself, the superintendent of the hospital, and the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services). Before any of the defendants filed responsive pleadings or motions, an amended petition was filed that listed the hospital, its superintendent, and the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services in the caption and identified more than 20 defendants in the text.
The trial court dismissed the case because the plaintiff had not filed a petition listing all of the identified defendants in the caption (K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 60-210(a) states: “Every pleading must have a caption with the court’s name, a title, a file number and a designation as in subsection (a) of K.S.A. 60-207, and amendments thereto. The title of the petition must name all the parties; the title of other pleadings, after naming the first party on each side, may refer generally to other parties.”)
The Kansas Appellate Court held that the trial court’s ruling was at cross-purposes with the fundamental goal of the civil justice process in security resolution of disputes on their merits, noting that none of the defendants could claim material prejudice from the way they have been identified in the petition or the amended petition because, although most of them have been omitted from the captions of the petitions, they have been plainly identified in the body of the pleadings as defendants. While the Kansas Appellate Court stated that the plaintiff’s lawyer’s inability or unwillingness to name all of the defendants in the caption of the pleadings seemed inexplicable, nothing in the record suggested that the plaintiff herself bears any direct responsibility for her lawyer’s “foul-ups.”
The Kansas Appellate Court held that taking account of all of the circumstances, there were insufficient legal bases for the trial court to have entered an order dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit with prejudice because some of the defendants were not named in the caption of the petition or the amended petition – the decision went outside the appropriate legal framework under which a trial court could dismiss a civil case with prejudice for failure to comply with a procedural rule.
Source Wilson, et al. v. Larned State Hospital, et al., No. 112, 193.
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