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Supreme Court of Indiana Rules Fraudulent Concealment May Toll Statute of Limitations Included in State’s Wrongful Death Act

file000848537366-2 morguefile username claritaThe Supreme Court of Indiana has ruled that the statute of limitations may be tolled due to fraudulent concealment in a wrongful death case. In Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., a woman who was apparently prone to falls resided at an Evansville skilled nursing facility. In November 2006, the woman purportedly suffered a fall-related head injury at the facility and died as a result. Three years later, a former nursing home employee allegedly told the deceased woman’s family that she fell as a result of an attack by another facility resident.

In 2011, the woman’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the skilled nursing facility. In its complaint, the estate accused the nursing home of causing the woman’s death and fraudulently concealing the facility’s own negligence. The nursing home filed a motion to dismiss the estate’s lawsuit, arguing it was filed after the statute of limitations had run.  Normally, a plaintiff who fails to file a lawsuit with the appropriate court prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations is permanently barred from recovery. The nursing facility also argued that a fraudulent concealment claim cannot toll, or extend, the statute of limitations in an Indiana wrongful death case.

The trial court treated the nursing home’s motion as a motion for summary judgment and ruled in favor of the facility after holding the estate did not file its case within a reasonable time. The estate argued the trial court committed error because the Fraudulent Concealment Statute, the Indiana Constitution, and relevant case law required that the statute of limitations be calculated from the date of the estate’s discovery of the purported fraud. In addition, the estate claimed the nursing home failed to show there was no issue of fact regarding whether the estate filed its lawsuit within a reasonable time period.  The trial court again concluded the estate filed its complaint too late.

The estate appealed the case to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s decision in part. The Court of Appeals held that the estate had two years from the date it discovered the fraud during which to file its case. The appeals court added that the Fraudulent Concealment Statute did not apply to the case at hand because it predated the Indiana Wrongful Death Act. Despite this, the court said the common-law fraud doctrine could be applicable to the case if the estate could prove each of the necessary elements. After that, the Court of Appeals remanded the estate’s lawsuit back to the trial court. The Indiana Supreme Court then agreed to transfer the case.

First, the Indiana Supreme Court stated summary judgment is only appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be construed in the light that is most favorable to the non-moving party.

Next, the Indiana Supreme Court stated that the question of whether the Fraudulent Concealment Statute applies to the Wrongful Death Act presented the court “with an issue of first impression.” According to the court, the Indiana General Assembly merely codified the common-law fraudulent concealment doctrine in the Fraudulent Concealment Statute. In addition, the court found that the law was amended in the same year the Wrongful Death statute was enacted in an effort to include such actions. The Supreme Court also reviewed applicable Indiana precedent and public policy considerations to conclude that the Fraudulent Concealment Statute may be used by a plaintiff to toll the two-year statute of limitations included in the Indiana Wrongful Death Act. Finally, the Supreme Court of Indiana reversed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the nursing home.

If you or someone you love has been injured or has died as a result of nursing home negligence, a reliable personal injury attorney may be able to help. To discuss your case with a dedicated Merrillville personal injury advocate today, do not hesitate to call Theodoros & Rooth, P.C. at (219) 769-6393 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., Ind: Supreme Court 2014

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Photo Credit: clarita, MorgueFile