Missouri Supreme Court says wrongful death suit against doctors filed after statute of limitations

By Elizabeth Alt | Apr 24, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) – Doctors entangled in a wrongful death suit were granted their request for the Missouri Supreme Court to grant a writ of prohibition that would prevent a circuit court from taking any action besides dismissing the suit against them “as barred by the statute of limitations.”

The Supreme Court granted the writ on April 3. All justices concurred, with Judge Patricia Breckenridge writing the opinion for the court. 

“Because the third action was not filed within one year of the nonsuit of the first action – the only action filed within the limitations period – the savings provision does not apply and the third suit is time-barred. The doctors are entitled to have the suit against them dismissed with prejudice. The preliminary writ of prohibition is made permanent,” the opinion states.

Paul Lang and Allison Boyer are the children of Michael Lang, who died in 2009. The children sued Dr. Patrick Goldsworthy and Dr. Aston Goldsworthy in 2010 over the death of their father, claiming wrongful death due to the doctors’ alleged negligence in chiropractic care. They dismissed their own suit in 2013 and filed a second complaint within a year. The circuit court dismissed the second complaint without prejudice because the plaintiffs had not filed a health care affidavit within 180 days of the death as required by Missouri law.

The plaintiffs filed a third complaint, which the doctors filed to dismiss over claims the statute of limitations had expired. After the circuit court dismissed their motion, the doctors filed a petition with the Missouri Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition.

A wrongful death suit must be filed within three years of the event, but Missouri law also provides for a “savings” section that allows plaintiffs to file a new complaint within one year following “the nonsuit of an action filed within the limitations period,” the opinion states.  

Breckenridge stated that “The dismissal of the plaintiffs’ second petition for failure to file the health care affidavit required by section 538.225 was without prejudice so it qualifies as a nonsuit.”

The Supreme Court stated that although the plaintiffs had filed their third action within a year of the nonsuit, it was not within the year after their first suit nonaction.

Breckenridge noted that the plaintiffs’ argument that the health care provision violated their rights to a trial by jury and the prohibition against special laws were “irrelevant to application of the savings provision” and “without merit.”

Breckenridge stated that the Supreme Court followed precedent to prevent numerous actions for the same suit, “statutory savings provisions have historically been interpreted to prohibit the refiling of an action following the nonsuit of the action filed within the savings period.”

Missouri Supreme Court case number SC95858

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