STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS-VICARIOUS LIABILITY-AMENDMENT OF COMPLAINT-AMPLIFICATION

November 28th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Statute of Limitations

Shifflett v. Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc., et al., No. 2293 EDA 2016 (Pa. Super. Nov. 9, 2017) Solano, J.  Lehigh Valley Health Network and Lehigh Valley Hospital appeal from the judgment against it on a general damage verdict of $2,391,620.  The appellate court concluded that the second amended complaint pleaded a new cause of action for vicarious liability against Lehigh Valley for the negligent actions of a nurse that did not appear in the plaintiff’s first amended complaint.  This new cause of action was barred by the statute of limitations. 

Because the verdict returned was general as to damages, it is not possible to tell what damages were awarded because of this error and therefore the case was sent back to the trial court for a trial on damages.  The lower court said that the amendment to the complaint after the statute of limitations ran was merely an amplification of prior pleading.  The court rejected this.  This is a warning to counsel not to rely upon amplification when attempting to amend a complaint after the statute of limitations runs.  The amended complaint added claims of improper medical treatment after the patient/plaintiff fell from her hospital bed.  Claims rely on different facts, a failure to report symptoms that would lead to an earlier diagnosis, than those regarding the alleged negligence that caused the fall.  As indicated, the amendment concerned events after the fall, whereas the original complaint dealt with matters which occurred which caused the fall.  The timing of the events is different, the location is different, and the personnel who were alleged to have engaged in the negligent conduct are different. 

In view of the fact that plaintiffs’ claims presented a new basis for recovery that was not pleaded before the statute of limitations ran, the trial court erred in permitting amendment to those claims.  This was not a mere amplification.  The court relied upon Chaney v. Meadville Medical Center, 912 A.2d 300 (Pa. Super. 2006) and Schweikert v. St. Luke’s Hospital of Bethlehem, 886 A.2d 265 (Pa. Super. 2005).  In both Chaney and Schweikert, the malpractice plaintiff waited until after the statute of limitations had run and then sought to amend the complaint to allege claims based on medical treatment that occurred at a different time period than had been alleged.  The corporate claim as to the care provided by the nurse will stand because of waiver on the part of defendants.  As indicated, the case was remanded for trial on damages.