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Fall from rehabilitation bed subject to med mal time limit

Scott Lauck//February 2, 2022//

Fall from rehabilitation bed subject to med mal time limit

Scott Lauck//February 2, 2022//

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The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled Jan. 25 that a woman who was injured when she fell out of bed at a rehabilitation hospital is still bound by the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims.

The plaintiff, Nancy Payne, was recovering at Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis from a stroke and surgery in 2017. In a lawsuit filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court in 2020, Payne alleges that staff members left her unattended, allowing her to fall out of her bed and strike her head. 

The circuit court granted summary judgment to the hospital, ruling that Payne’s suit was filed outside the two-year statute of limitations that applies to cases against medical providers. On appeal, the plaintiff said that deadline shouldn’t apply because her injuries were caused by ordinary negligence, not medical negligence. 

The appeals court disagreed. Judge Thomas C. Clark II wrote that “courts do not rely on the label a plaintiff applies to a claim in the pleadings to decide whether [the statute of limitations] applies. 

“Rather, what matters is whether or not the claim is in fact against a health care provider and related to health care,” Clark wrote. Judges Robert M. Clayton III and Gary M. Gaertner Jr. concurred. 

The ruling drew on a 2001 Missouri Supreme Court decision, Robinson v. Health Midwest Development Group, which held that “any act or omission related to the care, custody, or treatment of the patient, whether pled as ordinary negligence or negligence relating to malpractice” is covered by the statute of limitations.

Payne had pointed to a recent federal case from Missouri, Beard v. Pemiscot Memorial Health System, which had allowed a woman to sue more than two years after she slipped in the shower at a mental health institution and injured her wrist. 

Clark, however, said the plaintiff’s injury in that case was unrelated to the mental health treatment she was receiving. In contrast, he wrote, Payne required “constant, comprehensive attention,” as she was confined to a wheelchair while at the facility and required the assistance of staff to get into and out of bed due to her heightened risk for falling.

Derek R. Haake of Howard Haake in Clayton, an attorney for Payne, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Matthew J. Eddy of Lashly & Baer in St. Louis, an attorney for the Rehabilitation Institute, also didn’t return a call.

The case is Payne v. Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis LLC, ED109560. 

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