Wanda Williams v. CMO Management, LLC

Mr. Thompson, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, resided at the nursing facility from June 14, 2001, to June 27, 2011. Following his death on July 2, 2011, the petitioner filed suit against CMO on June 19, 2013, alleging, inter alia, that Mr. Thompson’s injuries and death resulted from the abuse and neglect he suffered while a resident at the nursing facility. The petitioner also sought damages in connection with systemic problems at the nursing facility concerning staffing, budgeting and allocation of resources, and inappropriate policies and procedures. She sought to recover for Mr. Thompson’s injuries from 2009 until his death. The parties stipulated below that Mr. Thompson was mentally incompetent during all times relevant to the petitioner’s cause of action.

On September 12, 2014, CMO filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Meet the Applicable Statute of Limitations Regarding Claims Accrued Prior to April 19, 2011.” Arguing that the Medical Professional Liability Act (“MPLA”) applied to all of the petitioner’s claims, CMO asserted that the two-year limitations period for MPLA claims barred any claims that accrued prior to April 19, 2011. Responding to the summary judgment motion, the petitioner argued that not all of her claims fell under the MPLA based on this Court’s decision in Manor Care, Inc. v. Douglas, 234 W.Va. 57, 763 S.E.2d 73 (2014), which turned on the MPLA definitions of “health care” and “health care provider.” She argued that while some of her claims fell squarely within the MPLA, other claims, which did not involve medical care or treatment, fell outside the MPLA. In further support of her position, the petitioner raised the applicability of the discovery rule and the tolling provisions of the general disability savings statute.

In ruling on the summary judgment motion based on the MPLA limitations period, the trial court relied upon a recent memorandum decision issued by this Court in Martin v. Charleston Area Medical Center, Inc., No. 12-0710, 2013 WL 2157698 (W.Va. May 17, 2013). We determined in Martin that adults who allege a medical professional liability action under the MPLA have a two-year statute of limitations, except in cases where discovery is an issue. Id. at *2. The trial court found the reasoning of Martin instructive on the issue of whether the savings statute should toll the petitioner’s claim. Citing the rule of statutory construction that a specific statute controls in comparison to a general statute, the trial court ruled that the MPLA’s “more specific two-year statute of limitations” should apply in lieu of the generalized provisions of the savings statute. In applying the two-year limitations period, the trial court decided that any claims arising from the care and treatment provided by the nursing facility prior to April 19, 2011, were time barred. Because Mr. Thompson died on July 2, 2011, the effect of this ruling was to limit the petitioner to introducing evidence of injuries that occurred during a two-and-a-half-month period (April 19, 2011, to July 2, 2011).

At the conclusion of trial, which began on October 21, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the petitioner. The jury responded to special interrogatories and found that CMO deviated from the standard of care in its treatment of Mr. Thompson. After assessing the negligence of CMO, the jury decided that 75% of the negligence was medical in nature and 25% was non-medical, as it pertained to inadequate staff and/or training. In awarding compensatory damages,11 the jury determined that $10,000 was attributable to damages suffered by Mr. Thompson and $90,000 was suffered by the estate for his wrongful death.