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Legal Update: Physician Wrongful Death Liability Claim Protections Upheld
The Ohio Supreme Court confirmed limits on physician liability in wrongful death cases late in 2023.
On December 28, 2023, the Court held that wrongful death claims arising out of alleged medical malpractice are subject to a four (4) year statute of repose (or a four (4) year time limit on filing such claims). This reversed a lower court that held the limit did not apply to such cases (effectively putting no limit on wrongful death liability arising out of medical treatment). This decision protects and provides finality for physicians on certain medical malpractice liability claims.
Full details of the case:
Everhart v. Coshocton Hospital, et. al. (Statute of Repose/Wrongful Death) – Case No. 2022-0424
In December 2003, the decedent, Mr. Everhart, arrived at the emergency department of Coshocton County Memorial Hospital after sustaining significant trauma in a car accident. Mr. Everhart was transported to the Ohio State University Medical Center, where he underwent successful care for his injuries. In August 2006 Mr. Everhart was diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer, and he died in October 2006. In January 2008 Plaintiff (Everhart’s wife) filed her complaint for medical negligence for failure to diagnose Mr. Everhart’s cancer, alleging wrongful death claims against the hospital and the treating physicians. This was within the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims, but after the four-year statute of repose for medical claims.
Ohio’s statute of repose requires a medical negligence lawsuit (i.e. a “medical claim”) to be brought no later than 4 years after the alleged malpractice (with a few exceptions). The question is whether the statute of repose applies to wrongful death cases. We are arguing, along with OHA and OOA, that wrongful death claims are “medical claims” subject to the statue of repose because a “medical claim” includes any claim that arises out of the medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of any person. The statute of repose limits liability for health care providers and brings finality to exposure to potential liability.
The Ohio Supreme Court accepted this case for review because there is now a conflict between state appeals courts regarding whether the statute of repose applies to wrongful death cases. Several cases have held that the statute of repose does apply, but the 10th district court of appeals just held otherwise.
OSMA filed an amicus brief filed August 29, 2022.
Oral argument held February 28, 2023. In agreeing with OSMA, the Court issued a decision reversing the 10th District Court of Appeals holding that the four year statute of repose for medical malpractice claims does apply to wrongful death claims arising from medical care.