Angel of Death Claims Against Hospital Revived

     KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – Five families who say a respiratory therapist killed their loved ones can advance wrongful-death claims against the therapist’s employers, a Missouri appeals court ruled.
     The families claim that Jennifer Hall, a respiratory therapist at Hedrick Medical Center, intentionally administered lethal dosages of medications that caused their decedents to suffocate. The families sued Saint Luke’s Health System, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Chillicothe and Community Health Group – affiliates of Hedrick – claiming that they intentionally concealed Hall’s actions.
     A Livingston County judge granted the defendants summary judgment, ruling that the families filed their claims after the three-year statute of limitations had run out. On appeal, the families argued that the defendants’ alleged intentional concealment of the true cause of death tolled the statute until the date that the cause of death became evident or reasonably ascertainable.
     The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed Tuesday and reversed.
     “A wrongful death cause of action does not necessarily accrue at the time of death; rather, it accrues at the time that ‘a diligent plaintiff has knowledge of facts sufficient to put him on notice of an invasion of his legal rights,'” Judge Gary Witt wrote for a three-person panel. “And while, under this definition, the accrual point in a wrongful death action in many – if not most – cases will coincide with the time of death, here, it does not.”
     The appeals court found that the plaintiffs sufficiently explained why the three-year statute of limitations should not be strictly applied.
     “Appellants allege that Respondents: (1) threatened and coerced employees of Hedrick to conceal information concerning the actions of Hall; (2) failed to request autopsies so as to conceal the true causes of the patients’ deaths when they knew a number of deaths were suspicious, (3) informed and/or instructed Hedrick employees to intentionally mislead the patients’ families that the causes of death were ‘natural’ instead of caused by Hall, (4) disbanded committees previously put in place by Hedrick to evaluate ‘codes’ and determine preventative measures, (5) failed to inform pertinent individuals and relevant medical communities about Hall’s intentional and/or negligent battery of patients, (6) failed to investigate and/or monitor Hall when requested to do so by law enforcement, (7) discarded and/or failed to preserve crucial material evidence contained in Hall’s locker pertaining to her intentional and/or negligence batteries, and (8) impeded the investigation of Hall by law enforcement,” Witt wrote. “Such fraudulent concealment of their actions, if true, would have prevented Appellants from ascertaining that they had a cause of action … Indeed, rather than ensuring that tortfeasors pay for their misdeeds, granting Respondents’ motion for judgment on the pleadings would suggest that tortfeasors can escape civil liability merely by concealing their misdeeds for more than three years.”

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