The December 10, 2019 opinion of the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed a lower court ruling that the Missouri medical malpractice plaintiffs’ fraudulent concealment claims against the defendant health care providers were time barred because the facts upon which they now rely to show fraud were discoverable by them in July 2010, October 2010, and January 2011, when they filed their wrongful death petitions involving the same conduct by the defendants. “Accordingly, their present claims for fraudulent concealment are barred by section 516.120(5).”
In 2010 and 2011, the plaintiffs filed five separate, but similar, wrongful death lawsuits against the defendants alleging the defendants were directly and vicariously liable for the deaths of each of their family members at Hedrick Medical Center between February 2002 and April 2002 when a former respiratory therapist employed by the defendants intentionally administered lethal doses of succinylcholine and insulin to their family members. The plaintiffs claimed the therapist’s misconduct caused at least nine suspicious deaths and at least 18 other medical emergencies at Hendrick Medical Center.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to inform the necessary persons and medical committees when the therapist’s misconduct was discovered and threatened or coerced hospital employees to conceal information regarding the therapist’s misconduct; that in order to prevent autopsies that would have revealed the decedents’ true causes of death, the defendants instructed hospital employees to notify the families that the decedents had died of natural causes; and, that the defendants removed or altered the decedents’ medical records to prevent the patients’ physicians from accessing them, and the defendants impeded law enforcement’s investigation of the therapist by failing to investigate or monitor her activities when asked to do so and by failing to preserve evidence relating to her misconduct.
Section 516.120 sets forth a five-year statute of limitation for certain causes of action. Subsection five provides that among those claims to which the five-year statute applies is: “An action for relief on the ground of fraud, the cause of action in such case to be deemed not to have accrued until the discovery by the aggrieved party, at any time within ten years, of the facts constituting the fraud.” § 516.120(5). Thus, the Supreme Court of Missouri stated, a claim for fraud must be brought within five years from the date the cause of action accrued, i.e., the date the facts constituting the fraud were discovered or, with reasonable diligence, could have been discovered, but no longer than ten years after they occurred.
The Supreme Court of Missouri stated that the plaintiffs “each filed their current petitions against Respondents for fraudulent concealment on October 18, 2016. Therefore, for these causes of action to have been timely filed under section 516.120(5), the facts constituting Respondents’ fraudulent conduct must not have been discovered or reasonably discoverable more than five years before that date, or October 18, 2011. But the very latest date on which Appellants had discovered – or with reasonable diligence should have discovered – the facts underlying their current fraudulent concealment claims was January 7, 2011, because that is the date on which the last Appellant filed her wrongful death petition … in Appellants’ wrongful death petitions that were filed in 2010 and January 2011, Appellants claimed at that time to know that Respondents had engaged in fraudulent conduct in connection with the deaths of Appellants’ family members and sought to conceal the nature of their deaths from Appellants. To every meaningful degree, Appellants made the very same allegations of fraudulent conduct by Respondents in their wrongful death petitions filed in 2010 and 2011 as they do in their fraudulent concealment petitions filed in 2016 … the only material difference between the two sets of petitions (at least with respect to the claims relating to Respondents’ fraud), is the injury Appellants claim they suffered as a result of Respondents’ fraudulent conduct.”
The Supreme Curt of Missouri held: “In short, everything Appellants know now, they knew in 2011 when they filed the last of their wrongful death petitions. They knew of Respondents’ fraudulent conduct because it was set forth in those petitions, and they knew that fraud did not toll the wrongful death statute of limitations … the five-year statute of limitations in section 516.120(5) prevents them from asserting those fraudulent concealment claims in October 2016.”
Source Boland v. Saint Luke’s Health System, No. SC97412.
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