In its opinion filed on January 5, 2017, the Supreme Court of Mississippi (“Mississippi Supreme Court”) affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s three subsequently filed Mississippi medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits while her first (original) Mississippi medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit was still pending, stating that the first court to properly take jurisdiction of a wrongful death action in Mississippi courts shall, so long as the action is pending, have exclusive jurisdiction, and any other subsequently-filed action for the same death shall be of no effect.
The plaintiff in all four Mississippi wrongful death lawsuits is the daughter of a man who died allegedly as a result of medical negligence in Mississippi. The plaintiff filed her first Mississippi medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against a physician on November 4, 2014, for the death of her father that occurred on September 21, 2013 that she alleged was caused by the medical negligence of the named defendant. Fifteen days later, on November 19, 2014, the plaintiff filed a second Mississippi medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against another physician, alleging that his medical negligence caused her father’s death.
On the same day that she had filed her second Mississippi medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff filed a third Mississippi wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital, alleging the separate negligence committed by the defendant hospital.
On December 10, 2014, the plaintiff filed her fourth Mississippi wrongful death lawsuit, this time naming as defendants the hospital named as the defendant in the third lawsuit and the physician named as the defendant in the second lawsuit, alleging medical and nursing negligence relating to care provided to her father.
In response to motions filed by the various defendants in the various cases, the lower court dismissed the second, third, and fourth Mississippi wrongful death lawsuits, finding that the first Mississippi wrongful death lawsuit is the only valid wrongful death case filed and that the subsequently filed wrongful death lawsuits had no effect.
The Mississippi Supreme Court Decision
The Mississippi Supreme Court applied the general rule of priority jurisdiction to uphold the “one-suit” rule expressed in Mississippi’s wrongful-death statute: under the rule of priority jurisdiction, a plaintiff is not authorized simply to ignore a prior action and bring a second, independent action on the same state of facts while the original action is pending (“the principle of priority jurisdiction is that where two suits between the same parties over the same controversy are brought in courts of concurrent jurisdiction, the court which first acquires jurisdiction retains jurisdiction over the whole controversy to the exclusion or abatement of the second suit”).
The Mississippi Supreme Court stated that a logical extension of the principle of priority jurisdiction requires that all claims for the wrongful death of a person be litigated in the same suit and in the same court: the first court to properly take jurisdiction of a wrongful death action in Mississippi state courts shall, so long as the action is pending, have exclusive jurisdiction, and any other subsequently-filed action for the same death shall be of no effect.
Hence, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the lower court properly applied the principle to hold that the plaintiff’s three subsequently filed actions were of no effect. The Mississippi Supreme Court further held that the lower court properly denied the plaintiff’s motion to amend and combine her lawsuits because it had been filed in the ineffective lawsuits numbers three and four.
Source Davis v. Blaylock, M.D., No. 2015-CA-01423-SCT.
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