In November 2014, the Supreme Court of Wyoming ruled on what appeared to be a run-of-the-mill medical malpractice lawsuit. What began as a simple question over the statute of limitations for filing such an action would generate a reply that would upend not one, but two, state laws.
Strictly speaking, Wyoming law establishes a two-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases. For minors, they must bring an action within two years of the incident or by the age of 8, whichever is later.
If your child has been injured in a failed surgical procedure, don’t wait to speak with a medical claims lawyer.
Where It All Began
Back in the spring of 2007, a 12-year-old girl referred to only as JK was admitted for a routine appendectomy. Shortly after her discharge the following day, JK began suffering complications. She would require additional treatment, including another surgery.
Four years later, JK’s parents filed a claim with the relevant medical review board, which dismissed the case a few months later. The family followed with a medical malpractice suit in 2012. The defendant responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing the claim fell outside the Wyoming’s statute of limitations on medical malpractice actions. The district court agreed and dismissed the case.
Because minors have no “procedural capacity to sue or be sued” Wyoming law allowed minors to pursue relief in court for injuries three years after they reach the age of majority. The statutes that provided for this dated back to 1886 – four years before Wyoming even became a state.
But that all changed in 1976, when the Wyoming State Legislature changed the rules with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-114, which reads:
“If a person entitled to bring any action except for an action arising from error or omission in the rendering of licensed or certified professional or health care services or for a penalty or forfeiture, is, at the time the cause of action accrues, a minor or subject to any other legal disability, the person may bring the action within three (3) years after the disability is removed or within any other statutory period of limitation, whichever is greater.”
The legislature, instead, chose to address medical malpractice claims separately, with a change to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-107(a)(ii), which reads:
“(a) A cause of action arising from an act, error or omission in the rendering of licensed or certified professional or health care services shall be brought within the greater of the following times: . . .(ii) For injury to the rights of a minor, by his eighth birthday or within two (2) years of the date of the alleged act, error or omission, whichever period is greater.”
Wyoming’s Supreme Court Weighs In
In essence, this change in the law barred minors from seeking the same relief for medical malpractice injuries as they otherwise would have enjoyed if they’d been injured in a car accident, for example.
The Wyoming Supreme Court not only ruled in favor of the plaintiff in this case, but in doing so, ruled that the two statutes violated the state’s constitution, which states that everyone has a right to access the courts. In short, the court ruled that the minor in this case, JK, shouldn’t be punished for her parent’s failure to act in a timely manner on her behalf.
Worse still, state lawmakers have failed to address these unconstitutional state laws more than three years after this ruling. It’s an oversight that could make some other family’s pain even worse if they read the statutes and are convinced they have no legal remedy, when in fact they do.
If you or a loved one has suffered a medical injury because of a medical professional’s negligence, get help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Burg Simpson’s Wyoming office. Call us today at 307-527-7891 or complete our Free Case Evaluation Form before it’s too late.