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Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Wrongful Death Case – Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Eric Frisch

June 20, 2022

Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Eric Frisch

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful death claim brought by the parents of three children based on expiration of the two-year statute of limitations. In October 2016, a mental health patient was discharged from a private facility where he was involuntarily committed. The patient had a history of suicidal and homicidal ideations. Plaintiffs alleged that the physician in charge of the patient was aware that he posed a danger to himself and others but discharged him anyway.

Three days later, the patient attended a bonfire with his sister and others. After an argument, he left and returned with a firearm, killing four people. In January 2021, the parents of three of the children filed lawsuits against the physician and corporate owners of the facility for improper discharge. The physician moved to dismiss the wrongful death claims based on expiration of the two-year statute of limitations. The parents argued that the statute of limitations was tolled based on O.C.G.A. §9-3-99, which tolls statutes of limitations for victims of crimes until prosecution for that crime. The trial court granted the motion and the parents appealed.

In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that the word “victim,” as used in the statute, refers to the person who is the direct object of the crime based on how the term is used in other statutes. Because Section 9-3-99 does not expand the term victim to include family members of victims, the Court concluded that the tolling statute does not apply.

Take-home: the wrongful death statute is in derogation of common-law and is strictly construed. Very few things can toll the statute of limitations for wrongful death.

The case is Hicks v. United Health Services, ___ S.E.2d ___, 2022 WL 2186441 (Ga.Ct.App. June 17, 2022).