A man fell ill and was transported to the emergency room, where he relayed that he had had a heart attack in the past. Just under four hours after his arrival, he collapsed in a hallway between emergency departments and died. An autopsy listed arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease as the cause of death.
The man’s heirs filed a complaint alleging claims for malpractice and wrongful death against the physician, hospital, doctors group, and medical practice. The heirs claimed that emergency room staff failed to perform a cardiovascular assessment, misdiagnosed the decedent's condition as abdominal pain, and delayed treatment.
The physician filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Specifically, the physician argued that the complaint did not set forth facts pertaining to the applicable standard of care, how he failed to act in accordance with that standard, or how that alleged failure proximately caused the man's death. He also argued that the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice because the statute of limitations had expired. The hospital, doctors group, and medical practice filed a motion to dismiss arguing that they were not named as defendants in that lawsuit until appellants filed an amended complaint outside the limitations period. The Circuit Court dismissed the heirs’ claims against all parties.
The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed. The court held that the heirs' allegations that the physician deviated from the acceptable standard of care resulting in the delay of life saving treatment was insufficient to state a claim for medical malpractice, the one-year savings statute did not apply to extend the two-year statute of limitations for actions for medical injury with regard to the hospital, doctor's group, and medical practice; and the heirs failed to preserve two additional arguments for appeal.
First, the heirs' allegation that the physician deviated from the acceptable standard of care resulting in the delay of life saving treatment was insufficient to state a claim for medical malpractice. Upon review of the grant or denial of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, only facts alleged in the complaint are treated as true, not the plaintiff's theories, speculation, or statutory interpretation. The heirs’ complaint was bereft of any factual support. Their statement was conclusory, as it did not state in specific terms how the physician deviated from the acceptable standard of care. The complaint did not contain sufficient facts on the element of causation, or that the physician's actions, or lack thereof, specifically caused the man's death.
Second, the court held that the one-year savings statute did not apply to extend the two-year statute of limitations for actions for medical injury with regard to hospital, doctor's group, and medical practice. The heirs argued that they filed their complaint in the original action within the statute of limitations and that the amended complaint in that lawsuit related back to the date of the original complaint, thereby satisfying the statute of limitations. The hospital, doctor's group, and medical practice were not added as party defendants until after the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The court reasoned that because these parties were not named as defendants until after the statute of limitations had expired, the savings statute did not apply, and the suit against them was time-barred.
Finally, the heirs failed to preserve for appeal two arguments because they failed to raise the arguments before the trial court and only raised them for the first time on appeal. The Arkansas Supreme Court will not consider arguments raised for the first time on appeal. On appeal the heirs first argued that the Circuit Court erred in granting motions for summary judgment against them on their medical malpractice and wrongful death claims before the completion of discovery. The heirs did not alert the circuit court that any discovery efforts were ongoing that were pertinent to their defense of motions to dismiss, nor did they urge the court to delay consideration of the motions to dismiss until discovery was completed. On appeal, the heirs first argued that their claims were not barred by the statute of limitations because their amended complaint related back to the filing of the original complaint. The court reasoned that because this issue was not raised below, there was nothing in the record to support the heirs' argument that they met the relation-back requirements.
The dismissal of the heirs’ claims was affirmed.
See: Worden v. Kirchner, 2013 Ark. 509, 2013 WL 6504753 (Ark., December 12, 2013) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2013 Report: Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Attacks: Liability Issues
See also Medical Law Perspectives, December 2012 Report: When Urgency Leads to Errors: Liability for Emergency Care