ILNews

Court: Wrongful death claim timely filed

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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Indiana's professional statute of limitations does not trump the state's Wrongful Death Act's statute of limitations, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In The Estate of Martha O'Neal, by personal representative Therese Newkirk v. Bethlehem Woods Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, No. 90A05-0705-CV-271, the appellate court was asked to decided if the statute of limitations had expired prior to O'Neal's estate filing a wrongful death complaint against Bethlehem on Oct 22, 2003. O'Neal was admitted to Bethlehem for rehabilitation on Sept. 10, 2001, for a fractured femur. She was given a wheelchair that was too small for her, causing her surgical incision to tear. She also was left on a bedpan for six hours once, causing her to contract severe decubitus ulcers. O'Neal was transferred to a hospital Sept. 22; she died Nov. 6, 2001.

The trial court granted Bethlehem's motion for summary judgment after determining a two-year statute of limitations for the estate to bring a suit had expired. The last day O'Neal was at Bethlehem was Sept. 22, 2001, so the suit needed to be brought within two years from that date. The trial court did not specify which statute the two-year statute of limitations applied.

The Court of Appeals took it upon themselves to determine in the opinion that the professional services statute, Indiana Code 34-11-2-3, applied to Bethlehem based on its relationship to O'Neal. Designated evidence showed there was a health care provider-patient relationship between the two, wrote Judge Margret Robb. The statute of limitation under the professional services statute is "occurrence based," which means it accrues when the conduct that caused the damage occurs, and expires after two years.

However, the professional services statute does not control over Indiana's Wrongful Death Act, I.C. 34-23-1-1. Bethlehem argued the professional services statute of limitations controls the WDA based on the Indiana Supreme Court decision in Ellenwine v. Fairley, 846 N.E.2d 657 (Ind. 2006), in which the court concluded if an adult victim of medical malpractice dies within two years of the occurrence of the malpractice, the victim's personal representative has to file a wrongful death claim within the medical malpractice act's statute of limitations. Bethlehem also argued Ellenwine should apply because the language of the medical malpractice act is similar to that of the professional services statute.

Judge Robb wrote this court was not convinced that Ellenwine leads to the conclusion the professional services statute of limitation controls over the WDA's statute of limitation because it lacks the procedural requirements that accompany the medical malpractice act.

Because the professional services statute of limitations is less comprehensive than the medical malpractice act, the WDA's statute of limitation should be used, meaning the estate's wrongful death claim was timely filed.

The appellate court reverses the trial court grant of summary judgment and remands the case to the trial court.
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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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