In its opinion filed on April 11, 2018, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah (“Utah Supreme Court”) affirmed a Utah medical malpractice jury’s finding that the plaintiff’s claim was filed after the two-year statute of limitations for Utah medical malpractice claims expired and therefore found in favor of the defendant.
The Utah medical malpractice plaintiff had undergone a colonoscopy performed by the defendant physician in July 1999, during which he unknowingly perforated the woman’s colon when removing a small polyp. The day following her colonoscopy, the woman experienced symptoms of the injury and went to the emergency room where the defendant diagnosed the perforation and admitted her to the hospital. She was initially treated with antibiotics, which was unsuccessful, and subsequently had four laparoscopic procedures to treat the infection caused by the perforation, all of which were unsuccessful. The woman was transferred on August 16, 1999 to another hospital, where a colostomy was performed within hours of her arrival, to treat her perforation and infection.
The plaintiff’s husband testified during the Utah medical malpractice trial that before his wife was transferred to the other hospital, a nurse told him that his wife needed to be transferred or she’d die, and the nurse was critical of the defendant’s care. Tens days after the transfer to the second hospital, a home health care nurse recorded on a sticky note attached to the intake form that the plaintiff had crossed out portions of the form because she had been told by her lawyer not to sign papers agreeing to pay. The plaintiff also signed an authorization and request for release of medical information in September 1999 for an attorney to obtain her medical records, and the attorney sent a request to the hospital for a copy of the plaintiff’s medical records on November 16, 1999. The plaintiff hired another Utah medical malpractice lawyer the following spring.
The plaintiff filed her Utah medical malpractice lawsuit on December 4, 2001. The defendant physician moved for summary judgment in 2005, arguing that the two-year Utah medical malpractice statute of limitations had expired. The trial court granted summary judgment. Appeals followed and the Utah Supreme Court ultimately held in a prior opinion that the facts presented could not establish as a matter of law that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and remanded the case to the trial court so that a jury could determine whether the plaintiff filed her claim more than two years after she discovered, or should have discovered, her legal injury.
Following trial, a Utah medical malpractice jury returned a unanimous defense verdict. The plaintiff appealed.
Utah Medical Malpractice Statute Of Limitations
The Utah medical malpractice statute of limitations in force at the time of the the plaintiff’s Utah medical malpractice lawsuit was Utah Code section 78-14-4 (1979): “No malpractice action against a health care provider may be brought unless it is commenced within two years after the plaintiff or patient discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered[,] the injury, whichever first occurs, but not to exceed four years after the date of the alleged act, omission, neglect or occurrence . . . . ”
The Utah Supreme Court ruled that the trial court correctly determined the law with regard to its evidentiary decisions, that there was no clear error in its factual findings, and that it did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings. With regard to the nurse’s statement to the plaintiff’s husband about the care she had received from the defendant physician, the Utah Supreme Court held that the statement had probative value: it was given to the jury not to prove what the nurse told him was actually true or whether the patient knew of the nurse’s statement, but to show its effect on the plaintiff’s husband and present to the jury a possible reason for the desire to move his wife to the second hospital. With regard to the sticky note statement, “Client has been told by her lawyer, not to sign any papers indicating she’ll pay,” the Utah Supreme Court held that statement was admissible under rule 803(3), which allows hearsay statements that demonstrate “the declarant’s then-existing state of mind (such as motive, intent, or plan).”
The Utah Supreme Court concluded: “We hold that there were material facts in dispute and that a jury could permissibly find for Dr. Grigsby based on the evidence before it. Therefore summary judgment and directed verdict were unwarranted. We further hold that it wasn’t an abuse of discretion for the court to admit Ms. Arnold’s husband’s testimony and the nurse’s report. The trial court didn’t err in excluding the evidence Ms. Arnold asserts should have been admitted. Finally, we conclude that read as a whole, the jury instructions in this case correctly stated the law of the case. We affirm the trial court and we dismiss the cross-appeal as moot.”
Source Arnold v. Grigsby, 2018 UT 14.
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