Tolling the Limitations Period for Minors

Ho-Rath v. Rhode Island Hosp., — A.3d — (R.I. 2015), 2015 WL 2381215

This recent decision of the Rhode Island Supreme Court interpreted the tolling provision of state’s statute of limitations with respect to minors’ entitlement to file medical-malpractice suits, Gen. Laws, § 9-1-14.1(1). This provision affords two options regarding those suits. First, “an action may be commenced on behalf of the minor’s interest by next of friend within three years of the injury or reasonable discovery of the injury.” Alternatively, “the injured minor may commence an action on his or her own behalf within three years after reaching the [age of] majority.” The Court ruled that these two options are independent of each other and therefore also expire independently. After the expiration of the parent’s or guardian’s power to file a suit on the minor’s behalf, “the minor may file suit on his or her own behalf, but not until he or she reaches the age of majority [eighteen years]. Upon reaching the age of majority, he or she has three years within which to file the action.” The Court reasoned that “The initial three-year statute of limitations in § 9–1–14.1(1) encourages the minor’s parent or guardian to file suit promptly upon the occurrence or reasonable discovery of alleged malpractice; this restraint serves the purpose of providing a fair but appropriately limited opportunity for the litigation of the minor’s claims. If the parent or guardian fails to file suit on the minor’s behalf, however, the three-year window opens upon the age of majority; this ensures that the minor is not permanently prejudiced by his or her parent or guardian’s failure to timely assert his or her rights.”

The Court also decided that the minor’s parents can use either of these two windows for filing a derivative lost-consortium action against the defendant.