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Can the Time Limit to File a Wrongful Death Claim Expire Before the Patient has Died?

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I wrote about this issue a while back when the Tenth District Court of Appeals (Franklin County, Ohio) decided the case of Everhart v. Coshocton Cty. Mem. Hosp., 2022-Ohio-629. In that appeal, the court decided that Ohio’s four-year “statute of repose” for medical negligence claims does not apply to wrongful death claims. The statute of repose is an absolute ban on any medical claim that is not filed within four years of the date of the negligent act. For instance, under the statute of repose, if a patient is badly misdiagnosed but no injury results until five years after the misdiagnosis, the patient is barred from filing a lawsuit for personal injury/medical negligence. By the time the patient is injured, it is already too late to sue.

What if the medical negligence causes the patient’s death? If the death occurs more than four years after a misdiagnosis or other negligent act, lobbying groups for medical providers and the insurance industry have argued that the patient’s family should be barred from filing a wrongful death lawsuit. In other words, they have argued that the time limit to file a wrongful death claim can expire even before the patient has died. Thankfully, the Tenth District Appellate Court rejected this argument, finding that it would be patently unfair for a wrongful death claim to expire before the death occurs.

The lobbying groups obviously were not satisfied with this decision and appealed the case to the Ohio Supreme Court last year. After extensive briefing, oral arguments were held in February 2023. Since then, we have been waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court to settle this issue. We have been following this case closely and expect to see a ruling any day. (We promise to update you when the case is decided!)

Until then, there remains much uncertainty and unpredictability when it comes to wrongful death claims that have not been filed within four years of the date of negligence. Eliminating the ability of a family to bring a wrongful death claim based on medical negligence – even before the patient has died – is just another step toward eliminating medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits altogether. We are hopeful that the Ohio Supreme Court will follow the well-reasoned analysis of the Tenth District Court of Appeals and at least “stop the bleeding,” but based on the political composition of the Court (and its tendency to rule in favor of the insurance industry), we don’t know how the Court will rule.

One thing we know for sure, however, is the complicated laws surrounding medical negligence and wrongful death claims underscore the importance of contacting an experienced medical negligence attorney right away if you or someone you know has been the victim of a medical mistake.

At The Eisen Law Firm, we have been handling medical negligence cases for decades. We know the ins and outs of Ohio medical negligence laws – which are constantly changing – and we understand the medicine involved in medical negligence claims. If you or someone you know might have a case, please contact us as soon as possible, so that we can determine whether you have a valid claim that isn’t too late to be filed. You can reach us at (216) 687-0900 or www.malpracticeohio.comfor your free case evaluation.