Miss. SC rules against Pioneer Community Hospital in wrongful death suit

By Pam Wright | Apr 6, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital can move forward after determining that the state’s savings statute for minors applies to the complaint.

According to court documents, the state’s highest court unanimously ruled in favor of Tyteanna Roberts, who filed a medical malpractice suit in 2015 alleging Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton was responsible for the 2010 death of her mother, Tina Roberts.

The high court said a statute that allows minors to file legal claims until the age of 21 applies to the case, even though the statute of limitations has expired.

Attorneys for the hospital argued the minors savings statute and the state’s wrongful death law linked to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Curry v. Turner did not apply in the Roberts case. But the court found that the two cases were “at irreconcilable odds with one another where there exists a person qualified under the wrongful death statute to bring suit.”

The hospital further argued it was “hard-pressed to envision a scenario where there would not be at least one interested party of majority age whose mere existence would preclude the application of the minors savings clause,” noting that Roberts’ aunt and former legal guardian could have filed the lawsuit on the younger Roberts’ behalf before the statute of limitations had expired.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying in its 13-page opinion that “the deceased’s oldest child had two years from when she reached the age of majority to file a wrongful-death suit based on medical negligence.”

The Roberts’ case was different from the Curry case, the court noted, because in the Curry case, the minors’ mother filed a suit within the statute of limitations. Therefore, a second suit would not be permitted under the law. In the case of Roberts, there was only one suit filed, by the deceased’s child.

“For this reason, to the extent Curry held that the mere existence of someone qualified to bring a wrongful-death suit created an irreconcilable conflict between Section 11-7-13 and Section 15-1-59 and precluded the application of the latter statute, we explicitly overrule this part of our holding,” it said. “Instead, we hold that only when someone who is qualified to bring a wrongful-death suit actually files a wrongful-death suit on the minor beneficiaries’ behalf will the minors savings clause not apply, because, once the suit is filed, the running of the statute of limitations is immaterial.”

The justices further determined that “under that statute, the deceased’s oldest child had two years from when she reached the age of majority to file a wrongful-death suit based on medical negligence. Because she timely filed within this two-year period, we affirm the denial of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and remand this case for further proceedings."

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