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Mistakenly named hospital can’t be brought back into suit

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled June 16 that a Joplin hospital can’t be added to a lawsuit after the statute of limitations had run, even though it mistakenly had been named as a defendant at one point in the suit.

The 2013 suit originally named Mercy Hospital Joplin as the employer of a surgeon alleged to have negligently caused the death of Gladys Walker when removing her gallbladder in 2011. In 2016, long after the three-year statute of limitations for wrongful-death causes of action ended, the plaintiffs learned that the surgeon’s actual employer was a separate entity, Mercy Clinic Joplin.

The plaintiffs successfully substituted the clinic for the hospital, but then they sought to keep Mercy Clinic as a defendant while adding Mercy Hospital back to the suit as a separate defendant.

Under the statute of limitations’ “savings clause,” plaintiffs who “suffer a nonsuit” can refile their cases within one year. Last year, the Court of Appeals Southern District said the hospital’s dismissal counted as a nonsuit. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying “the proper substitution of a party is not the commencement of a new suit but a continuation of the old one.”

“Said differently, the action against the initially named Mercy Hospital was not dismissed or terminated; it proceeded, just against the proper defendant, which was substituted for the incorrectly sued Mercy Hospital,” Judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote.

The case is Sofia et al. v. Dodson et al., SC97854.

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