Tolling Statutes of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Suits: The “Death Certificate” Approach

Lyas v. Forrest General Hosp., — So.3d —, 2015 WL 6532412 (Miss. 2015)

The plaintiff’s husband died at a hospital from a heart attack induced by a drug overdose. The local coroner promptly informed the plaintiff that her husband died from a heart attack without mentioning the overdose. A few days later, a provisional autopsy report listed the cause and manner of the death as “pending toxicology.” Based on that report, the coroner issued a provisional Certificate of Death that listed the immediate cause of the death as “pending.” Two years later, after receiving the toxicology report, the coroner issued the final Certificate of Death. This certificate attested that the death of the plaintiff’s husband resulted from changes consistent with a drug overdose.

Mississippi’s Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to have a jury determination on whether she could toll the state’s one-year statute of limitations. The Court reasoned that, under the circumstances of the case, a reasonable factfinder could decide that it was justifiable for the plaintiff to wait for the final death certificate instead of initiating an independent inquiry into her husband’s death.