JAMES E. GUFFEY, ET AL.
LEXINGTON HOUSE, LLC
SUPERVISORY WRITS TO THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT,
PARISH OF RAPIDES
matter, the plaintiffs, two of the decedent's children,
have brought wrongful death and survival actions under the
Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, La. R.S. 40:1231.1, et
seq., against a nursing home, alleging that injuries the
decedent received when the nursing home's employee
dropped her while transferring her from a bath chair to her
bed caused her to suffer injuries that ultimately resulted in
her death. The decedent's granddaughter, rather than the
plaintiffs, initially filed a request for a medical review
panel ostensibly as the representative either of the decedent
or her estate. The lower courts found that the granddaughter
was a "claimant" within the meaning of the Medical
Malpractice Act, namely La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) and (A)(16),
and that her timely request had therefore suspended
prescription with regard to the medical malpractice claims of
the plaintiffs, even though they had not been named as
claimants in the original request for a medical review panel.
However, for the reasons set forth below, we find the lower
courts erred in concluding the granddaughter was a proper
"claimant" under the language of the Act on the
basis that she was a succession representative for the
decedent's estate. Because the initial request for the
medical review panel was not made by a proper
"claimant," prescription was not tolled.
Accordingly, because the defendant's exception of
prescription should have been granted, the trial court's
ruling denying the exception of prescription is reversed.
and PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 19, 2016, Geneva Guffey, an elderly patient at
Lexington House Nursing Home in Alexandria sustained a
laceration to her right leg while being transferred from a
bath chair to her bed. Mrs. Guffey died several months later
on May 16, 2016, allegedly because the injuries she received
caused an insurmountable decline in her overall condition.
November 2, 2016, Deana Frederick, Mrs. Guffey's
granddaughter, filed a complaint of medical malpractice
against Lexington asserting it had committed malpractice in
the transfer of Mrs. Guffey and requesting the formation of a
medical review panel. Ms. Frederick identified herself in the
letter to the Division of Administration as follows:
"CLAIMANT: Deana Frederick, on Behalf of her Deceased
Grandmother." Other than setting forth the allegation of
what had transpired, the letter does not indicate in any
other way Ms. Frederick's relationship to Mrs. Guffey,
who had already passed away at the time of the filing of the
Guffey was survived by three sons, including George Guffey
and James Guffey, who are the plaintiffs in the instant case.
On May 18, 2017, more than one year after Mrs. Guffey's
death, Ms. Frederick sent by facsimile a
"supplement" to her request for a medical review
panel seeking to add two claimants, James Guffey and Ms.
Frederick as representative of the estate. The letter to the
Division of Administration identified James as follows:
"James E. Guffey, Individually and as a Surviving Child
of Geneva Guffey." The letter also sought to add Ms.
Frederick as the representative of Mrs. Guffey and her
estate. The letter described her as follows: "Deanna
Frederick, as Representative of Geneva Guffey and as
Representative of Geneva Guffey's Estate."
response to the malpractice complaint, Lexington filed a
discovery suit in the district court. On May 22, 2017,
Lexington filed an exception of no right of action pursuant
to La. R.S. 40:1231.8(B)(2)(a), asserting Ms. Frederick was
not a proper party claimant because, as the granddaughter of
the decedent, she is not included in the class of persons
entitled to file a survival action under La. Civ. Code art.
2315.1 or a wrongful death action under La. Civ. Code art.
2315.2.  The trial court denied the exception,
reasoning that the definition of "claimant" in La.
R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) is not limited to those who will
ultimately be allowed to assert a survival or wrongful death
claim when the panel proceedings are concluded. The trial
court considered the exception of no right of action to be
premature at this stage of the proceedings. The court of
appeal denied Lexington's writ application, finding no
error in the trial court's ruling. In re Medical
Review Panel Proceedings, Geneva Guffey v. Lexington House,
LLC, 17-829 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/2/18) (unpublished).
the medical review panel issued an opinion on November 15,
2017, finding that Lexington breached the standard of care
and that Mrs. Guffey should have been transferred from the
bath chair to the bed by two persons rather than one. The
panel found the breach in care was a factor in the resultant
damages, but it ultimately concluded the "laceration was
a local discomfort for the patient [and] did not in any way
exacerbate any of her chronic medical problems nor did it
contribute to her ultimate demise."
January 28, 2018, within ninety days of the issuance of the
panel opinion, James and George Guffey filed suit
individually and on behalf of their mother. George Guffey had
not been a claimant in the medical review panel proceedings,
and Ms. Frederick was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Lexington filed an exception of prescription, alleging that
James and George Guffey's survival and wrongful death
actions were prescribed on their face, as they were filed
more than one year from the date of the alleged malpractice.
Lexington also alleged that neither of the plaintiffs had
filed a malpractice claim with the Division of Administration
within one year of the discovery of the malpractice or within
one year of the death of their mother as required by La. R.S.
9:5628. With regard to George, Lexington asserted there was
no suspension of prescription because he had never filed any
medical malpractice claim until the lawsuit. With regard to
James, Lexington asserted that the faxing of the letter to
the Division of Administration on May 18, 2017, seeking to
add him as a claimant, did not relate back to the earlier
filing by Ms. Frederick, and thus did not suspend
prescription. Lexington maintained that Ms. Frederick's
original request to the Division of Administration did not
suspend prescription because she was not a valid
"claimant" on the basis that she was not a party to
the litigation and she had no right of action to any damages
via either a survival action or wrongful death action arising
from the injuries and death of Mrs. Guffey.
opposition to the exception of prescription, the plaintiffs
asserted a previous judge had ruled in the case that Ms.
Frederick had possessed a right of action to file the claim.
The plaintiffs introduced a number of exhibits showing that
Ms. Frederick had a durable power of attorney from Mrs.
Guffey, that both James and George stated Ms. Frederick had
been acting on their behalf, that Ms. Frederick had been
named the executrix in Mrs. Guffey's will, and that there
was a judgment of possession of the estate in favor of Ms.
hearing, the trial court denied the exception of
prescription. The court referred to the prior ruling denying
Lexington's exception of no right of action, and noted
that, under the unique circumstances of this case, Ms.
Frederick had a right of action because there was an actual
relationship between Ms. Frederick and the decedent as
granddaughter and caretaker and ultimately as the universal
legatee. The trial court then found that Ms. Frederick's
timely claim had suspended prescription, such that James
Guffey had been properly added to the claim and that George
Guffey's claims were not prescribed. The trial court
cited Truxillo v. Thomas, 2016-0168 (La.App. 4 Cir.
8/31/16), 200 So.3d 972, for the proposition that the timely
filing of a claim for medical malpractice by one claimant
suspends prescription with regard to all other potential
claimants even though they were not named in the original
request for a medical review panel.
sought writs from this ruling in the court of appeal. The
appellate court in a written opinion denied the writ, finding
no error in the trial court's denial of the exception of
prescription. Guffey v. Lexington House, LLC,
2018-475 (La.App. 3 Cir. 8/22/18), 254 So.3d 1. The court of
appeal revisited Lexington's assertion that Ms. Frederick
did not have a right of action to file her claim for a
medical review panel because she was not a proper claimant
and had no right to damages under the Civil Code. The
appellate court held that, as a succession representative,
she was a proper claimant under La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) of
the Medical Malpractice Act, declining to limit
"claimants" to the classes of people entitled to
damages under the Civil Code. The appellate court went on to
follow the holding of the Fourth Circuit in
Truxillo, with regard to the suspending of
prescription in favor of all potential but un-named claimants
by a timely filed malpractice claim, and rejected the
opposite holding by the First Circuit in Parks v.
Louisiana Guest House, Inc., 13-2121 (La.App. 1 Cir.
9/30/14), 155 So.3d 609, writ denied, 14-2281 (La.
1/16/15), 157 So.3d 1131, and Rickerson v. Audubon Health
& Rehabilitation Center, 2017-629 (La.App. 1 Cir.
12/21/17) (unpublished), writ denied, 2018-118 (La.
3/23/18), 239 So.3d 292 (applying
granted Lexington's writ application to review the
rulings of the lower court. Guffey v. Lexington House,
LLC, 2018-1568 (La. 01/08/19), So.3d . In this court,
Lexington makes essentially two arguments. First, Lexington
contends Ms. Frederick was not a proper claimant under the
Medical Malpractice Act because she did not meet the
definition of a "claimant" pursuant to La. R.S.
40:1231.1(A)(4) and (A)(16), and because she was not entitled
to seek damages as a result of Mrs. Guffey's death.
Second, Lexington contends the timely filing of a medical
malpractice claim suspends prescription only as to named
claimants in the original request for a medical review panel
and, because the plaintiffs here were not named as claimants
and did not submit timely malpractice claims, their claims
are prescribed. Because we find merit to Lexington's
contention Ms. Frederick was not a proper
"claimant" within the meaning of the Medical
Malpractice Act, we need not reach the issue of whether the
timely filing of a claim by a proper claimant suspends
prescription for any other, un-named claimants.
prescriptive period for actions based on medical malpractice
is set forth in La. R.S. 9:5628(A), which requires such
claims to be brought within one year of the alleged act,
omission, or neglect, or within one year from the date of
discovery.Additionally, even as to claims filed
within one year of the discovery of the alleged malpractice,
all such claims must be filed, at the latest, within three
years from the date of the alleged act, omission, or neglect.
La. R.S. 9:5628(A). However, pursuant to the Medical
Malpractice Act, a party must first present her proposed
complaint to a medical review panel for review prior to the
filing of suit in district court. La. R.S.
40:1231.8(A)(1)(a); Warren v. Louisiana Medical Mutual
Insurance Company, 2007-0492 (La. 6/26/09), 21 So.3d
186, 204 (on rehearing). The prescriptive period for filing a
lawsuit set forth in La. R.S. 9:5628(A) is suspended during
the full time that a claim is pending before a medical review
panel and for ninety days following notification to the
claimant or her attorney of the panel's opinion.
See La. R.S. 40:1231.8(A)(2)(a).
the petition for medical malpractice herein was filed more
than one year after the alleged malpractice and resulting
death of Mrs. Guffey, the petition is timely only if
prescription was suspended as to the plaintiffs' claims
during the pendency of the proceedings before the medical
review panel. The threshold issue thus presented is the scope
of the term "claimant" under the Medical
Malpractice Act and whether Ms. Frederick was a proper party
to file a claim and initiate a medical review panel, thus
tolling prescription, when she first sent her request to the
Division of Administration. Lexington contends that a person
who does not have a right of action for tort damages is not
entitled to file a medical malpractice claim. The plaintiffs
counter that the definition of "claimant" in the
Medical Malpractice Act is broader than the class of persons
who have a right to seek tort damages under the Civil Code,
that Ms. Frederick is a proper claimant as a representative
of the patient and her estate, and that the purpose of the
medical review panel procedure is to weed out superfluous
claims rather than determine or fix legal rights to damages.
resolve the issue presented, this court now turns to the
language of the statute. The Civil Code directs that the
court attempt to ascertain the meaning of the statute under
review by first looking to the language of the statute. When
a law is clear and unambiguous, and its application does not
lead to absurd consequences, the law shall be applied as
written and no further interpretation may be made in search
of the intent of the legislature. La. Civ. Code art. 9;
see also Touchard v. Williams, 617 So.2d 885, 888
Medical Malpractice Act is very specific on who may bring a
claim and initiate a medical review panel, with all the
benefits and consequences that follow therefrom. The Act
defines "claimant" as follows:
"'Claimant' means a patient or representative or
any person, including a decedent's estate, seeking or who
has sought recovery of damages or future medical care and
related benefits under this Part. All persons claiming to
have sustained damages as a result of injuries to or death of
any one patient are considered a single claimant." La.
R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4). The Act also defines
"representative" as follows:
"'Representative' means the spouse, parent,
guardian, trustee, attorney or other legal agent of the
patient." La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(16).
instant case, the court of appeal addressed the meaning of
"claimant" under the Act, ultimately concluding Ms.
Frederick was a claimant pursuant to La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4)
when she filed the original request for a medical review
panel with the Division of Administration. The court first
noted that the request for a medical review panel is a
prerequisite to and not the equivalent of a suit for medical
malpractice. 2018-475, p. 10, 254 So.3d at 8, quoting
Houghton v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc.,
2003-0135 (La.App. 1 Cir. 7/16/03, 859 So.2d 103, 105-06).
Although Ms. Frederick had not specifically designated
herself as the succession representative when she filed the
original complaint, the court found the complaint "made
clear" that Ms. Frederick was filing on behalf of her
deceased grandmother. The court pointed out that Ms.
Frederick had a power of attorney for two years prior to Mrs.
Guffey's death and that she was named as the executrix in
Mrs. Guffey's will. The court observed that Ms. Frederick
amended the complaint to "reflect" that she was the
representative of the estate and that she introduced
documents in opposition to the exception of no right of
action proving she was the succession representative.
court below found there was conflict between the definitions
of who has a right of action under the Civil Code and who can
bring a claim under the Medical Malpractice Act. The court
reasoned the legislature could have defined
"claimant" as those who have a right of action
under La. Civ. Code art. 2315.1 or 2315.2, but chose not to
do so, and specifically included "representative"
and "a decedent's estate" as claimants. The
court noted La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) does not state that the
representative or the estate can only be a claimant when the
classes of persons listed in La. Civ. Code arts. 2315.1 and
2315.2 do not exist. The court found a difference between
having a right of action to bring a complaint before the
medical review panel and having a right of action to file a
suit in the district court once the panel proceedings have
concluded. The court cited Truxillo, supra,
for the proposition that there is no focus on claimants
during the medical review panel process and that the Act
contemplates the filing of a single request for a panel with
the intent that the rights of all potential plaintiffs are
protected. Guffey, pp. 12-13, 254 So.3d at 9(quoting
Truxillo, supra, 200 So.3d at 976).
Truxillo court had also indirectly examined the
scope of "claimant" within the meaning of the Act.
It found that under the definition of claimant in the Act,
"any person" is considered a "claimant"
and that the term "claimant" is "not limited
to those persons for whom our laws afford a right of