The Statute of Repose ‘Means What It Says’ and Applies to Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Claims Alike, Decides Supreme Court of Ohio

person pointing out form information to someone in a neck brace.

On December 28, 2023 the Supreme Court of Ohio finally put to rest the issue of whether the statute of repose for medical claims applies to wrongful death claims, answering the long-discussed question in the affirmative.

Todd Everhart was involved in a motor vehicle accident on December 21, 2003. He was transported to Coshocton Hospital initially, but was then transferred to The Ohio State University Medical Center (OSUMC). Mr. Everhart recovered from his injuries, but he died of lung cancer approximately three years later. On January 25, 2008, less than two years after his death, but more than four years after his brief visit to Coshocton Hospital, his wife filed a wrongful death claim against Coshocton Hospital alleging that they had failed to detect her husband’s lung cancer on imaging taken in response to the motor vehicle accident. Litigation ensued, and in 2017 the Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that the suit was time-barred by the four-year statute of repose pursuant to R.C. 2305.113(C).

The Trial Court granted the Motion, but the Tenth District Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court holding that R.C. 2305.113(C) does not apply to wrongful death claims. The Tenth District based its decision on Klema v. St. Elizabeth’s Hosp., 170 Ohio St. 519, 166 N.E.2d 765 (1960) and Koler v. St. Joseph Hosp., 69 Ohio St.2d 477, 432 N.E.2d 821 (1982) because therein the Supreme Court of Ohio held that wrongful death claims, which are based in statute, are distinct from medical malpractice claims, which are based in common law. Because there had been a district court split on this issue up until now, the Supreme Court of Ohio certified a conflict between the Tenth District Court of Appeals’ decision and the Third, Fifth, and Eleventh District Courts of Appeals. The question which the Court considered was: “Does the statute of repose for medical claims, set forth under R.C. 2305.113(C), apply to statutory wrongful death claims?”

The Ohio Supreme Court started its analysis by recognizing that the statute of repose, R.C. 2305.113(C), “means what it says,” as the Court had previously determined in a number of different contexts.  Given that foundation, the Court next determined that a claim of wrongful death based on a claim of medical negligence falls within the statutory definition of “medical claim” set forth in R.C. 2305.113(E)(3) as it is plainly written. Accordingly, the Court found that wrongful death claims are time-limited by the statute of repose that applies to all medical claims.

In coming to this decision, the Court has finally given certainty to potential defendants across the state, who can now rest assured that wrongful death claims will not be brought more than four years after the care at issue was provided.  But this decision also reinforces the fact that a “medical claim” is ANY claim that satisfies the definition set forth in R.C. § 2305.113(E)(3).

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