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Murphy v. Allina Health System

August 26, 2003

GEORGE MURPHY, TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT-OF-KIN OF MARY MURPHY, DECEASED, RESPONDENT,
v.
ALLINA HEALTH SYSTEM, D/B/A UNITED HOSPITAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS (C1-03-124), APPELLANTS (C0-03-213),
PARKWAY FAMILY PHYSICIANS LLC, ET AL., APPELLANTS (C1-03-124), DEFENDANTS (C0-03-213).



Ramsey County District Court File No. C3017776

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Wright, Judge, Parker, Judge. *fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A claim is governed by the statute of limitations in effect at the time the action is brought. In Minnesota, the accrual date in a wrongful-death action arising from medical malpractice is the date of the alleged malpractice rather than the date of death, subject to the termination-of-treatment rule. Thus, for a wrongful-death action premised on medical malpractice brought between August 1, 1999, and July 31, 2002, the statute of limitations is four years from the time the cause of action accrued.

2. The statute of limitations for a wrongful-death action premised on medical malpractice brought on or after August 1, 2002, is three years from the date of death, provided the action is brought within four years from the date the cause of action accrued.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge

Affirmed; certified question answered

OPINION

In this wrongful-death action premised on medical malpractice, the district court denied appellants' motions for summary judgment, concluding that the action was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations. In an amended order, the district court certified as important and doubtful the following question: "What is the proper length of time that applies to wrongful death actions premised on allegations of medical malpractice brought after August 1, 1999?" In these consolidated appeals, we rephrase and answer the certified question, and we affirm.

FACTS

For the limited purposes of this appeal, the following facts are undisputed. Mary Murphy went to United Hospital on March 11, 1998, complaining of chest pains. She was treated by Dr. Francisco DeLaRosa, who performed tests and reviewed Murphy's medical history. Dr. DeLaRosa discharged Murphy the same day with instructions to see her regular family physician the next day. Murphy visited her family physician, Dr. David Ness, at Parkway Family Physicians, LLC, the following day and again on March 20. Murphy died in her home on April 23, 1998, and the autopsy revealed that she suffered from atherosclerotic heart disease.

On February 14, 2002, respondent George Murphy, the surviving spouse of Mary Murphy, commenced this lawsuit as trustee under Minn. Stat. §á573.02, subd. 1 (2000), the wrongful-death statute, alleging negligence against appellants Allina Health System (doing business as United Hospital), Dr. DeLaRosa, Parkway Family Physicians, LLC, and Dr. Ness.

Appellants moved for summary judgment, arguing that respondent's action was time-barred by the newly amended wrongful-death statute, Minn. Stat. § 573.02 (2002), which establishes a three-year statute of limitations retroactive to August 1, 1999. Respondent countered that his suit was timely because the four-year limitations provision of the medical-negligence statute, Minn. Stat. § 541.076 (Supp. 1999), applied, as it was incorporated by reference into Minn. Stat. § 573.02 (2000) at the time respondent brought his action. Respondent asserted that, although the 2002 amendments to Minn. Stat. § 573.02 were "effective retroactive to August 1, 1999," the legislature did not intend to divest plaintiffs of their medical-malpractice claims because the statute was silent as to the effect on pending cases. Respondent further asserted that, to the extent the 2002 amendments to the wrongful-death statute deprive him of an existing cause of action, the statute is unconstitutional.

In October 2002, the district court denied appellants' summary judgment motions, concluding that the 2002 amendments to the wrongful-death statute did not apply to respondent's cause of action, but only applied to causes of action that accrued on or after August 1, 1999. The district court determined that the two-year limitations provision of Minn. Stat. § 541.07 (1998) in effect at the time of Mary Murphy's death applied, but because it was retroactively amended in 1999 — before respondent brought his suit — its four-year limitations provision extended the time in which respondent could bring his suit. The district court declined to reach the question of constitutionality in light of its conclusion.

In an amended order, the district court certified the following question as important and doubtful: "What is the proper length of time that applies to wrongful death actions premised on allegations of medical malpractice brought after August 1, 1999?" Pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(i), appellants appeal from the ...


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