Doctrine of Equitable Tolling May Save Some Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuits from Dismissal

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case that involved allegations of nursing home negligence that were filed after the applicable statute of limitations outlined in the Federal Tort Claims Act. In the case, Hawver v. United States, the plaintiff may be given the opportunity to show the court that equitable factors justified the late filing of the case.

The Facts of the Case

Briefly, the relevant facts of Hawver v. United States are as follows. Hawver claimed that a federally run nursing facility was responsible for the death of her mother, based on the negligent care they provided while she was in the facility’s care. Hawver filed her case in federal district court, invoking the court’s subject matter jurisdiction. This is important because federal courts cannot hear every case between two parties. There must be a question of federal law, the case must involve a federal agency or employee, or the case must arise between parties from two different states and have a certain minimum amount in controversy. Here, the plaintiff was filing suit in federal court based on the fact that the nursing facility was federally qualified.

However, Hawver did not file her lawsuit against the federal government until after the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Previous case law on the subject held that a failure to file the case within the applicable statute of limitations will automatically prevent the court’s subject matter jurisdiction from attaching. Thus, the lower court determined that the plaintiff’s case was filed too late and that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

On appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was reversed, and the plaintiff will have the opportunity to show the lower court that equitable factors should be considered in determining if the case should proceed to trial notwithstanding the late filing. This decision was the result of the court of appeals applying new U.S. Supreme Court case law that was decided after the lower court’s decision in the case. The new case, United States v. Wong, held that the Federal Tort Claims Act’s statute of limitations is subject to equitable tolling.

Thus, in light of the Supreme Court’s new decision, the case was remanded back to the lower court to look into the question of whether equitable factors justified the late filing.

Are You Considering Filing Suit Against a Negligent Nursing Home?

If you have a loved one in a federally qualified nursing facility, and you believe that the negligence of the staff caused your loved one serious injuries, they may be entitled to monetary compensation. While almost every case is subject to a strict statute of limitations, the new case law from the U.S. Supreme Court allows more flexibility for plaintiffs. While it is always important to act in a timely manner, it would be a mistake to believe that it is too late for you to file suit. Contact one of the skilled personal injury advocates at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers to discuss your case. Call 410-654-3600 to set up your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Understaffing: The Number One Cause of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2015.

Recovering for a Family Member Who Was Abused in a Maryland Nursing Home, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published December 8, 2015.

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