The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District (“Missouri Appellate Court”) decided in its opinion filed on June 19, 2018 that the families of patients who died when the defendant hospital’s respiratory therapist killed their relatives could pursue fraudulent concealment claims against the hospital even though their wrongful death claims had previously been dismissed because they were time-barred by the three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims, which accrued upon the decedents’ deaths in 2002.
The Missouri Supreme Court had affirmed the dismissal of the wrongful death claims, overturning a prior appellate court decision that had applied equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. The Missouri Supreme Court held that wrongful death claims accrue at death and fraudulent concealment does not toll or trigger an exception to the three-year statute of limitations. While the Missouri Supreme Court held that the families were without a remedy for wrongful death claims, the Missouri Supreme Court expressly noted that it was not commenting on whether the families possessed “other viable remedies at law.”
The families subsequently filed new petitions in October 2016 asserting other remedies at law against the defendant hospital in which they alleged that after the death of the relevant decedents, the defendant hospital was vicariously liable when its employees fraudulently misrepresented the true nature of the 2002 deaths in an intentional effort to mislead the families and prevent the timely filing of wrongful death claims.
The Missouri Appellate Court held in the present appeals that a cause of action for fraud does not accrue, and the statute of limitations for a fraud claim does not begin to run, until two separate conditions are satisfied: (1) the damage resulting therefrom is sustained and is capable of ascertainment, and (2) discovery by the aggrieved party, at any time within ten years, of the facts constituting the fraud. Only when both of those conditions are met does the five-year limitations period begin to run.
The Missouri Appellate Court stated that a plaintiff’s claim for a family member’s wrongful death is unquestionably a separate and independent cause of action from his claim for his own injuries. In the present cases, the first lawsuits each related to a claim for the wrongful death of a decedent, whereas the second lawsuits each related to a separate and independent cause of action for each of the plaintiffs for their damages caused by the fraudulent actions of the defendant hospital after the relevant decedent’s death.
The Missouri Appellate Court held that because the plaintiffs’ action for fraud accrued after the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 that abolished equitable tolling of the section 537.100 statute of limitations (and held that wrongful death claims accrue at death and further held that fraudulent concealment does not toll or trigger an exception to the three-year statute of limitations), the second lawsuits that were filed in 2016 were filed within the five-year statute of limitations for the filing of fraud claims and the second lawsuits are not time-barred.
Source Boland v. St. Luke’s Health System, Inc., WD80928 (Consolidated with WD80930, WD80932, WD80933, and WD80942).
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in Missouri, you should promptly find a Missouri medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a Missouri medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in Missouri who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.