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Court of Appeals Holds a Wrongful Death Claim Arising from Medical Care is Subject to Statute of Repose for Medical Claims

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By Taylor Knight

June 29, 2018

Under Ohio law, “medical claims” are subject to a four-year statute of repose.  Generally, a “medical claim” is defined as any claim asserted against specific statutorily enumerated medical providers, such as hospitals, physicians and nurses, and that arises from medical care and treatment. See R.C. 2305.112(E).  In recent years, Ohio courts have begun addressing whether the substantive and procedural rules applicable to “medical claims” apply to both medical negligence claims and wrongful death claims despite the fact that a wrongful death claim is maintained by a decedent’s beneficiaries and is as separate and distinct from any medical negligence claim by the decedent. 

Recently, in Smith v. Wyandot Memorial Hospital, et al., 2018-Ohio-2441, the Third District Court of Appeals held a wrongful death claim that falls within the statutory definition of a “medical claim” under R.C. 2305.113(E) is subject to the four-year statute of repose for medical claims. In Smith, Shawn Smith received medical care and treatment from multiple medical providers in and around 2004. Many years later, Mr. Smith was diagnosed with terminal renal cancer and ultimately passed away in July 2015.[1] 

In July 2017, Mrs. Smith filed a wrongful death claim arising from the allegedly negligent medical care and treatment Mr. Smith received in 2004.  Of note, the wrongful death claim was timely filed within the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of all the defendant medical providers on the grounds that Mrs. Smith’s claim, despite being brought pursuant to the wrongful death statute, was a “medical claim” under R.C. 2305.113(E); therefore, it was subject to the four-year statute of repose applicable to medical claims in R.C. 2305.113(C).

The Third District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision relying on recent Ohio Supreme Court precedent and the rules of statutory interpretation. Specifically, the court of appeals noted that in Antoon v. Cleveland Clinic, the Ohio Supreme Court held the medical claim statute of repose clearly and unambiguously bars “any action” asserting a medical claim that is commenced more than four years after the occurrence of the act or omission that forms the basis of the claim.  Wrongful death actions fall within the scope of “any action;” therefore, they are subject to the time restraints of the medical claim statute of repose. The court of appeals went on to hold Mrs. Smith’s wrongful death claim met the statutory definition of a “medical claim” and was filed well outside the four-year repose period.  Accordingly, Mrs. Smith’s wrongful death claim was properly dismissed as untimely under the statute of repose.

The Smith v. Wyandot Memorial Hospital decision is significant as it is the first Ohio court of appeals decision to address whether the medical claim statute of repose applies to wrongful death claims. In addition, the decision further bolsters the argument that wrongful death claims arising from medical care and treatment are medical claims and subject to all substantive and procedural rules applicable to medical claims – such as the affidavit of merit requirement in Civ.R. 10(D)(2).

If you have any questions regarding the Smith v. Wyandot Memorial Hospital decision, would like a complete copy of the opinion, or have any questions with respect to healthcare liability, please contact a member of our Medical Malpractice Practice Group.

[1]Prior to his death, in 2013, Mr. Smith filed a medical negligence claim alleging multiple medical providers negligently failed to diagnose his renal cancer in 2004.  Through various procedural devices, Mr. Smith’s claims against all defendants were dismissed. Ultimately, the court of appeals held Mr. Smith’s medical negligence claim was time-barred by the four-year statute of repose on the basis that all the allegedly negligent acts had occurred in or around 2004.