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Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton v. Roberts

Supreme Court of Mississippi

March 23, 2017

PIONEER COMMUNITY HOSPITAL OF NEWTON AND DR. BERNARD BOKA
v.
TYTEANNA D. ROBERTS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF TINA ROBERTS, DECEASED

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/30/2015

         NEWTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. MARCUS D. GORDON TRIAL JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: GAYE NELL CURRIE ALAN D. LANCASTER

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: GAYE NELL CURRIE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ALAN D. LANCASTER JONATHAN RYAN TAYLOR

          BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., KITCHENS AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE

         ¶1. The case before us involves timeliness of a wrongful-death action and the interplay between the wrongful-death statute[1] and the minors savings clause.[2] In 1999, this Court held "[t]here is no question now that the savings clause, set out in [Section] 15-1-59 of the Mississippi Code, applies to a wrongful death action" brought under Section 11-7-13 of the Mississippi Code. Thiroux ex rel. Cruz v. Austin ex rel. Arceneaux, 749 So.2d 1040, 1041 (Miss. 1999). But just three years later, this Court found reason not to apply the minors savings clause to the wrongful-death action filed in Curry v. Turner, 832 So.2d 508, 517 (Miss. 2002). Instead, this Court found the two statutes to be "at irreconcilable odds with one another where there exists a person qualified under the wrongful death statute to bring suit."

         ¶2. In the present wrongful-death lawsuit, the defendants rely on Curry to claim the action is time-barred. They argue the minors savings clause did not apply because the minor beneficiaries had a maternal aunt who was "qualified under the statute to bring suit." While this may be so, we find there is a material distinction between Curry and the case now before us. In Curry, not only was the minor beneficiaries' mother qualified to bring suit, but she also in fact filed a wrongful-death action. Thus, under Section 11-7-13's "one-suit" requirement, this Court found the minor beneficiaries could not rely on the application of the minors savings clause to file what essentially would be a second wrongful-death action.

         ¶3. But here, by contrast, the minor beneficiaries' aunt never filed a wrongful-death action, though Section 11-7-13 authorized her to do so as the deceased's sister. Instead, the first and only suit filed was by the deceased's children. For this reason, to the extent Curry held that the mere existence of someone qualified to bring a wrongful-death suit created an irreconcilable conflict between Section 11-7-13 and Section 15-1-59 and precluded the application of the latter statute, we explicitly overrule this part of our holding. Instead, we hold that only when someone who is qualified to bring a wrongful-death suit actually files a wrongful-death suit on the minor beneficiaries' behalf will the minors savings clause not apply, because, once the suit is filed, the running of the statute of limitations is immaterial.[3]

         ¶4. With that premise in mind, we find the minors savings statute clearly applied in this case. Under that statute, the deceased's oldest child had two years from when she reached the age of majority to file a wrongful-death suit based on medical negligence. Because she timely filed within this two-year period, we affirm the denial of the defendants' motion for summary judgment and remand this case for further proceedings.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Tina's Death

         ¶5. Tina Roberts died on July 23, 2010, shortly after being discharged from the emergency room at Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton (Pioneer Hospital). When Tina died, she was unmarried with two minor children-sixteen-year-old Tyteanna (born July 30, 1993) and nine-year-old Breanna (born October 29, 2001).

         II. Attempted Guardianships

         ¶6. A little more than two years later, on July 31, 2012, a lawyer claiming to "represent the surviving minor children of Tina Roberts" filed a notice-of-claim letter against Pioneer Community Hospital and emergency-room physician Dr. Bernard Boka. In this letter, counsel informed the potential defendants, "we are in the process of establishing guardianships for the minor children of Tina Roberts, deceased. Their maternal aunt, Theresa Ellis will be serving as their guardian[.]"

         ¶7. The next week, August 9, 2012, Tina's sister Ellis filed two petitions for guardianship, one for Tyteanna and one for Breanna.[4] In both petitions, Ellis requested "that she be authorized to make a claim for and make settlement (upon further approval of this Court) for damages against ...


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