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Jensen v. Intermountain Healthcare, Inc.

Supreme Court of Utah

June 26, 2018

Erik Jensen, Appellee,
v.
Intermountain Healthcare, Inc., IHC Health Services, Inc., dba LDS Hospital, and IHC Health Services, Inc., dba Intermountain Medical Group, Appellants.

          On Appeal of Interlocutory Order Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Judge Barry G. Lawrence No. 150900735

          Charles H. Thronson, Nicholas Bernard, Salt Lake City, for appellee

          Troy L. Booher, Beth E. Kennedy, Alexandra Mareschal, Salt Lake City, for appellants [1]

          Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas and Judge Toomey joined.

          Due to her retirement, Justice Durham did not participate herein; Court of Appeals Judge Kate A. Toomey sat.

          Justice Petersen became a member of the Court on November 17, 2017, after oral argument in this matter and accordingly did not participate. Justice Pearce, opinion of the Court:

          PEARCE JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 1 On interlocutory appeal, we are asked to decide whether a request for prelitigation review-a step the Utah Healthcare Malpractice Act (UHMA) mandates a plaintiff take before filing a medical malpractice suit-tolls one of the limitation periods for filing that suit. The district court decided that it did. We agree that it does and affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶ 2 The only facts relevant to this appeal are those that speak to the chronology. Erik Jensen received surgical treatment for abdominal pain and cramping on March 26, 2010. On April 1, 2010, Jensen suffered cardiac arrest. Jensen claims that medical staff failed to properly resuscitate him and provided negligent post-surgical care.

         ¶ 3 On March 21, 2014, Jensen filed a notice of intent to sue and a request for prelitigation review. Jensen received a certificate of compliance on December 26, 2014, [2] and filed suit on February 2, 2015.

         ¶ 4 Intermountain Healthcare, Inc., IHC Health Services, Inc. dba LDS Hospital, and IHC Health Services, Inc. dba Intermountain Medical Group (collectively "IHC") moved for summary judgment arguing that UHMA's four-year limitation period for medical malpractice actions barred Jensen's suit. The district court concluded that Jensen's request for prelitigation proceedings tolled the time to file during the period he spent waiting for the prelitigation review to conclude. IHC appeals.

         ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶ 5 The single question before us asks whether the district court erred when it denied IHC's summary judgment motion. This requires us to examine whether filing a request for prelitigation review tolls the four-year period for filing suit. This presents a statutory construction question that we review for correctness. See Bishop v. GenTec Inc., 2002 UT 36, ¶ 8, 48 P.3d 218.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶ 6 To understand better the question this case presents, it is helpful to appreciate UHMA and the hurdles it requires a prospective plaintiff to clear before filing an action.

         ¶ 7 First, UHMA requires a plaintiff to file a "notice of intent to commence an action." Utah Code § 78B-3-412(1)(a). This notice must be sent to the prospective defendant and must include "(a) a general statement of the nature of the claim; (b) the persons involved; (c) the date, time, and place of the occurrence; (d) the circumstances surrounding the claim; (e) specific allegations of misconduct on the part of the prospective defendant; and (f) the nature of the alleged injuries and other damages sustained." Id. § 78B-3-412(1)(a), (2), (3).

         ¶ 8 Second, a plaintiff must present the claim to a prelitigation panel. Id. § 78B-3-416(2)(a). UHMA requires that the plaintiff file the request for prelitigation panel review within sixty days of filing the notice of intent to commence action. Id. The prelitigation panel proceedings are, in the statute's words, "informal [and] nonbinding" but also "compulsory as a condition precedent to commencing litigation." Id. § 78B-3-416(1)(c) (emphasis added). The division has 180 days after the request is filed to "complete a prelitigation hearing," or longer if all parties agree. Id. ยง 78B-3-416(3)(b). After it completes its review, the hearing panel issues an opinion and a certificate acknowledging that the ...


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