Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Clark v. Prakalapakorn, 8 Kan. App. 2d 33, 648 P.2d 278 (1982).
This case addresses the following issue:
When does a wrongful death claim have to be brought under Kansas law?
The law requires that claims be brought within certain time limits, and the limit varies depending of what type of claim is being brought. Id. at 33. These time limits are known as “statutes of limitations.” Id. This case dealt with the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim, and whether this time limit could ever be extended under proper circumstances. Id. at 34. The court ultimately found that the death is the triggering event, even if the fact that it was “wrongful” is not discovered until later. Id.
Plaintiff’s mother was involved in a car accident, resulting in her being transported to the emergency room for medical care. Id. at 33. Once there, the mother received inadequate medical treatment that ultimately resulted in her death. Id. However, Plaintiff thought the death was tragic but unpreventable for several months. Id. at 34. Approximately eight months after the death, Plaintiff was discussing the matter with another doctor when she learned that the death was likely the product of inadequate medical care. Id. Upon learning this, Plaintiff immediately filed suit—approximately 25 months after the mother’s death. Id. at 33.
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is established by Section 60-513. Id. This statute sets the period at two years and requires that the time limit began to run once “the act giving rise to the cause of action first causes substantial injury” unless the “injury is not reasonably ascertainable.” Id.
Plaintiff argued that “the ‘injury’ was not discovered until [Plaintiff] consulted with the doctor” that informed her of the medical malpractice by Defendant. Id. However, the court disagreed. Id. The injury was clearly the death of the mother, which Plaintiff was aware of immediately upon its occurrence. Id. at 34. The statute does not say that the Plaintiff must know the injury is caused by wrongdoing or is unlawful; it only speaks of “substantial injury.” Id. Thus, Plaintiff had missed the filing deadline for the wrongful death claim by just over a month, and the action had to be dismissed because it was time-barred. Id. Based upon this application of the statute of limitations, it is hard to imagine an instance in which the two-year statute of limitation would be extended. Id.