Overdose Suit Deadlines Shouldn't Bend to Youth
(CN) - A woman who was a minor when her brother died cannot toll the statute of limitations to sue the nurse who allegedly supplied the fatal overdose, a California appeals court ruled.
Abigail Barker had been 18 years old in June 2010 when she sued psychiatric nurse Cari Eileen Garza for the death of Matthew Steven Barker by painkiller overdose.
Garza was one of Matthew's nurses in the psychiatric unit at Aurora Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena. Garza and Matthew had "an inappopriate personal relationship" during and after Matthew's hospital stay, according to the appellate opinion, which accepted Barker's claims as true.
Garza allegedly administered fentanyl and Klonopin to Matthew, despite knowing that the combination of the drugs could be fatal, and Matthew died in June 2008.
In a demurrer to the action, Garza argued that the one-year statute of limitations for claims under the Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA) had expired.
A Los Angeles County judge agreed and later sustained a demurrer to Barker's other claims. Though Barker's claims have been dismissed, Matthew's estate and mother have filed a third amended complaint.
Barker appealed only the dismissal of her DDLA claim, but a divided three-judge panel of the Second Appellate District shot her down last week.
Though Barker had been a minor at the time of her brother's death, the court cannot give her extra time to file suit, according to the 16-page ruling.
"Having enabled minors to sue under the DDLA while also imposing a strict one-year limitation on DDLA claims, the Legislature would have included minority tolling if it had intended to toll the limitations period for minors," Justice Madeleine Flier wrote for the majority.
Writing in dissent, Justice Laurence Rubin slammed his colleagues for finding that "statutory tolling for minors does not apply unless the Legislature expressly says so."
"Although the act is designed to provide a remedy for children who have been harmed by drug dealing activity, the majority's interpretation will likely slam shut the courthouse doors to them in virtually every case," Rubin added.