In its decision filed on May 19, 2015, the Rhode Island Supreme Court had to decide issues involving the application of Rhode Island’s statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases to the respective claims of a minor child who was injured allegedly as a result of medical negligence, and the claims of the child’s parents for their loss of consortium.
General Laws 1956 § 9-1-14.1(1)
Rhode Island’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims of minors is found in General Laws 1956 § 9-1-14.1(1), which provides, in pertinent part: “Notwithstanding the provisions of §§ 9-1-13 and 9-1-14, an action for medical * * * malpractice shall be commenced within three (3) years from the time of the occurrence of the incident which gave rise to the action; provided, however, that: “(1) One who is under disability by reason of age * * * and on whose behalf no action is brought within the period of three (3) years from the time of the occurrence of the incident, shall bring the action within three (3) years from the removal of the disability.”
In the present case, the child’s parents filed a medical malpractice case in 2010 on behalf of their minor daughter, who was born in 1998 with a genetic disorder. The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice case alleged negligence in the diagnosis and treatment relating to their daughter’s genetic disorder, as well as a loss of consortium claim on their own behalf.
Some of the medical malpractice defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that all of the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because they were not filed within the three year statute of limitations set forth in § 9-1-14.1(1). The lower court granted the motions, reserving the minor’s right to file a future medical malpractice lawsuit on her own behalf upon reaching the age of majority, but further deciding that the parents would not be permitted to attach their loss-of-consortium claims to the child’s future medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that § 9-1-14.1(1) provides a minor plaintiff in a medical malpractice action with two options: either the minor’s parent or guardian may file suit on the minor’s behalf within three years of the occurrence or reasonable discovery of alleged malpractice, or alternatively, if the minor’s parent or guardian fails to file suit on the minor’s behalf within those three years, then the minor may file suit on his or her own behalf, but not until he or she reaches the age of majority. Upon reaching the age of majority, he or she has three years within which to file the action.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court further held that a parent’s claim for loss of consortium in a medical malpractice case involving a minor child should be tolled alongside the minor’s claim from which it derives (“Our precedent regarding parents’ loss-of-consortium claims clearly establishes that these claims are derivative in nature and must be joined with the child’s claims if it is feasible to do so … the tolling provision in § 9-1-14.1(1) remains in existence for the sole benefit of the injured minor; but, because the loss-of-consortium claims are dependent upon the minor’s underlying claims, the parents are permitted to avail themselves of the benefit of the statutory tolling period”). Thus, the plaintiffs were not foreclosed from appending their derivative claims to a future suit brought by the minor after she attains the age of majority.
(The dissenting opinion argued: “It is my opinion that the better interpretation of the statute would be to provide minors on whose behalf no suit has been filed within three years of an act of negligence the benefit of the tolling provision inherent in § 9-1-14.1(1) and allow them to file suit at any time up until three years after they attain the age of majority … Applying the majority’s reasoning to a plaintiff whose disability has no known set terminus, such as mental incompetency, would leave no guaranteed saving provision for that plaintiff. There is no known time when the disability of incompetence may be removed, thus opening the “window” that the majority’s opinion creates. The majority’s opinion leaves this complication for another day. In my view, the statute should apply broadly to plaintiffs laboring under any legal disability, thus avoiding the possibility of parsing the legislation among plaintiffs having various disabilities.”)
Source Jean Ho-Rath et al. v. Rhode Island Hospital et al., Nos. 12-208, 12-211.
If you or a family member were injured (or worse) due to medical negligence that occurred in Rhode Island or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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