Statute of Limitations under “Open Courts” Challenge: Minors Can Sue

Kordus v. Montes, — P.3d — (Wyo. 2014)

Wyoming’s statute of limitations provides that a minor’s medical malpractice suit must be filed “by his eighth birthday or within two … years of the date of the alleged act, error or omission, whichever period is greater.”

A minor whose action was barred under this statute challenged the statute’s constitutionality before the Wyoming Supreme Court. This challenge invoked the “open courts” provision of the Wyoming Constitution. Under this provision, Article 1, Section 8, “All courts shall be open and every person for an injury done to person, reputation or property shall have justice administered without sale, denial or delay.”

The Court adjudicated this challenge by applying the “means-ends” scrutiny, also followed by courts in other jurisdictions. The Court held that the limitations provision was unconstitutional in that it unfairly and unreasonably abrogated a child’s medical malpractice cause of action when the child is not at fault.

This holding followed similar decisions made by the Supreme Courts of Texas, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, and Arizona: Sax v. Votteler, 648 S.W.2d 661 (Tex. 1983); Strahler v. St. Luke’s Hosp., 706 S.W.2d 7 (Mo. 1986); Mominee v. Scherbarth, 503 N.E.2d 717 (Ohio 1986); Piselli v. 75th Street Medical, 808 A.2d 508 (Md. 2002); Barrio v. San Manuel Div. Hosp. for Magma Copper Co., 692 P.2d 280 (Ariz. 1984). The Court also followed its own prior ruling in relation to a different statute: Dye v. Fremont County School Dist. No. 24, 820 P.2d 982, 985 (Wyo. 1991) (“we cannot allow a minor, who has no realistic ability to protect herself, to suffer loss of her claim because of a parent’s failure to act”), while refusing to follow the Supreme Courts of Virginia and Massachusetts that upheld the constitutionality of a similar provision (Willis v. Mullett, 561 S.E.2d 705 (Va. 2002); Harlfinger v. Martin, 754 N.E.2d 63 (Mass. 2001)).