Relatives mad after court blocks suits over hospital deaths
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) — Relatives are outraged after the Missouri Supreme Court decided wrongful death litigation can’t go forward against a northwest Missouri hospital where a nurse is accused of intentionally killing patients more than a decade ago.
The judges cited statute-of-limitations issues in this month’s 4-3 ruling, which shields Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe from civil liability, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/1UdCBK8 ) reports.
Among the frustrated relatives is David Gann, who said he didn’t sue within the state’s three-year statute of limitations on wrongful death cases because hospital officials had told him and other families that the deaths resulted from natural causes. Eight years had passed since his 82-year-old father died before lawyers told him there were suspicions that patients had been killed.
“How would you come up with wrongful-death suit if you didn’t know anything was wrong?” he asked.
Gann is part of civil cases that claim nine deaths and 18 medical emergencies were linked to a respiratory therapist who worked four months at Hedrick. Suits allege the employee intentionally poisoned patients with injections of insulin, a paralyzing drug called succinylcholine or some other substance, causing them to “code blue” and in some cases die. The plaintiffs also claimed hospital administrators concealed her actions.
Trial judges originally ruled for the hospital. But an appeals court panel found that because of the alleged concealment, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until later.
Saint Luke’s Health System, which acquired the Chillicothe hospital after the alleged poisonings and is a defendant in the lawsuits, has said no proof exists that killings took place and has denied claims that there was a cover-up.
No one has been criminally charged in connection with the deaths, but the Livingston County coroner said an investigation is continuing.
The high court’s majority opinion noted that “it is difficult to reach a conclusion here that leaves the plaintiffs without a remedy.” Acknowledging that “the outcome is distasteful,” the judges nonetheless found that the state Legislature had never written exceptions into a statute long on the books that sets time limits on wrongful-death filings.
Mike Manners, an attorney for the families suing Hedrick and Saint Luke’s Health System, said he planned to request that the high court rehear his case on grounds that “a maxim of common law is that nobody is entitled to benefit from their own wrongdoing.”
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com