Tennessee Federal Court Examines Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Claim

calendar 2The statute of limitations for bringing a wrongful death claim in the state of Tennessee is one year from the date of death. In some circumstances, however, the statute may be tolled in the event that the decedent suffered from a disability. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee ruled that a plaintiff’s claim was timely filed in Johnson v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals.

In a suit for medical malpractice and wrongful death, the decedent passed away while being treated by the defendant hospital. According to the facts of record, the decedent was admitted to the hospital in mid-January 2012, due to bronchitis. Shortly after admission, the decedent complained of body aches, for which she was prescribed a number of pain medications. After approximately four days in the hospital, the patient’s husband discovered that his wife was unresponsive.

Several medical interventions were performed, but the patient was diagnosed with a brain injury and remained unresponsive until she passed away on January 31, 2012. The decedent’s mother, the plaintiff in this action, filed suit on May 23, 2013. The complaint alleged that the hospital acted in a negligent manner and sought compensatory damages, as well as damages for pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

The Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act sets forth certain notice requirements, which were fulfilled by the plaintiff. Nonetheless, the hospital asserted that the plaintiff’s suit was barred by Tennessee’s statute of limitations. As such, the hospital made a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.

The federal court examined the applicable laws and noted that the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases requires a claim to be brought within one year of the date of the injury. However, when a plaintiff provides notice of the claims as required by the medical malpractice statute, an additional 120 days will be added to the period of limitations. Moreover, the limitations period is tolled in cases when a decedent becomes of “unsound mind” after suffering an injury, but prior to the date of death. Tennessee cases define the term  “unsound mind” as being incapable of attending to any business or taking care of oneself. Under these circumstances, the limitations period is tolled until the disability is removed.

In response to the hospital’s motion, the plaintiff contended that her daughter suffered from an injury on January 19, 2012, and became unresponsive immediately thereafter. The patient remained in that condition until the date of her death on January 31, 2012. The court held that the limitations period was therefore tolled until January 31. In addition, since the plaintiff complied with the medical malpractice statute’s notice requirements, an additional 120 days was added to the time in which she was required to file. As such, the court held that the complaint was timely and not barred by the statute of limitations.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries or death due to medical malpractice, contact the Nashville wrongful death attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard. It is vital to obtain skilled legal representation as soon as possible in order to file within the appropriate limitations period. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call (615) 800-7096.

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