The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that the statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim stemming from alleged nursing home abuse can be tolled, so long as the plaintiff can prove fraudulent concealment on the part of nursing home staffers as to the cause of death.
In Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., the surviving family of an elderly nursing home resident believed she had died following a head injury sustained during a fall – because that’s what they were told by the nursing home administrators. However, it wasn’t until a former employee came forward years later that the true source of head trauma was revealed: Abuse.
Fort Myers nursing home abuse attorneys note the purported source of that abuse was another patient.
While there are some dementia-related conditions that can result in a higher likelihood of aggressive behavior among sufferers, it’s up to the nursing facility to protect all residents from violence. That includes other residents, aides, nurses and visitors. When that doesn’t happen, the nursing home should be held accountable.
In this case, the facility attempted to evade responsibility by citing the statute of limitations – even when, according to the plaintiff, they had actively concealed the patient’s cause of death.
The woman was living at the facility in suburban Indiana when her family received word from administrators that she had suffered a fall, began vomiting several hours later and was transferred to the hospital.
The patient was reportedly prone to falls, due to her medical condition. But here again, falls occurring in a nursing home setting can be a glaring indication of negligence, particularly when management is aware that a person is susceptible to such incidents, and fails to take measures to mitigate the risk.
In this case, the woman died several days after the “fall,” with an autopsy revealing blunt force trauma to the head as a contributing factor in her death.
In Indiana, just like in Florida, the statute of limitations on wrongful death actions is two years. That means the plaintiff has two years from the time of an incident to file a claim, or else they forfeit the opportunity.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule, and fraud by concealment would be one of those. That is, if the defendant concealed critical information to the plaintiff that he or she could not otherwise have known, the statute should be tolled.
But by how much?
The courts have generally ruled in favor of an equitable tolling. That is, the claim must be filed within a “reasonable” amount of time.
The trial court initially granted the nursing home’s motion for summary judgment, and this ruling was later affirmed by an appellate court. The justices indicated the revelation of information didn’t completely reset the statute-of-limitations clock, and ruled the plaintiff had waited too long from the time she found out until the time an estate was established and a case filed.
The state supreme court, however, reversed. The court reiterated a centuries-old principle of justice, which is that a person who commits fraud should not be allowed to gain from that (specifically citing the 1795 case of Talbot v. Jansen).
The court further noted a defendant’s failed duty to disclose the existence of a claim was sufficient enough to invoke statutory tolling for the full two years.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., June 3, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
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