JAMES E. GUFFEY, ET AL.
LEXINGTON HOUSE, LLC
SUPERVISORY WRITS TO THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT,
PARISH OF RAPIDES
JOHNSON, Chief Justice, dissents and assigns reasons.
case involves a wrongful death and survival action under the
Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) brought by two
children of the decedent, Geneva Guffey. Ms. Guffey was a
91-year-old resident at Lexington House nursing home in
January of 2016, suffering from pneumonia, respiratory
distress, chronic heart failure, dementia, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral vascular disease,
and varicose veins. On January 19, 2016, a Lexington House
employee dropped Ms. Guffey while transferring her from a
bath chair to her bed. Ms. Guffey died on May 16, 2016,
allegedly because the injuries she received caused an
insurmountable decline in her overall condition.
Guffey's granddaughter, Deana Fredrick, requested the
formation of a medical review panel on November 2, 2016. On
May 19, 2017, Deana filed an amended complaint to include Ms.
Guffey's son, James, as a claimant and stating that she
was the representative of Ms. Guffey's estate. Defendant
filed an exception of no right of action grounded on the
assertion that Deana was not a proper party claimant because,
as Ms. Guffey's granddaughter, she is not included in the
list of beneficiaries who have the right to file a survival
action under La. C.C. art. 2315.1 or a wrongful death action
under La. C.C. art. 2315.2. Defendant's exception was
denied. The medical review panel issued an opinion on
November 15, 2017, finding that Lexington House breached the
standard of care. On January 26, 2018, two of Ms.
Guffey's children, James and George, filed suit
individually and on behalf of Ms. Guffey. Defendant filed an
exception of prescription, arguing (as it did in support of
its prior exception of no right of action) that Deana was not
a proper "claimant" under La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4)
and thus prescription was not suspended when she filed her
request for a medical review panel. Defendant's exception
was denied by the district court, and the court of appeal
denied defendant's writ application. However, the
majority of this court now sustains defendant's
exception. I respectfully dissent.
to the majority, I find Deana was a proper claimant pursuant
to La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) and thus her filing of the
request for the formation of a medical review panel suspended
prescription as to all potential plaintiffs. In my view, the
majority applies a hyper-technical definition of
"claimant" by limiting it to one who has a right of
action to seek recovery of wrongful death or survival action
damages pursuant to La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 or 2315.2. By so
ruling, this court is effectively writing out the MMA's
definitions of "claimant" and
medical malpractice act defines "claimant" as
"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." La. R.S.
40:1231.1(A)(4)(emphasis added). Further,
"representative" is defined as "the spouse,
parent, guardian, trustee, attorney or other legal agent of
the patient." La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(18). This statutory
language is undoubtedly broad enough to include Deana. Deana
had a power of attorney from Ms. Guffey for two years prior
to her death. Deana was named executrix and sole beneficiary
in Ms. Guffey's will. Although Deana did not specifically
designate herself as the succession representative when the
original complaint was filed, the complaint makes clear that
she was filing on behalf of her deceased grandmother. Deana
amended the complaint to reflect that she was the
representative of the estate. When defendant filed its
exception of no right of action, Deana introduced documents
proving that she was the succession representative. See
Guffey v. Lexington House, LLC, 18-475 (La.App. 3 Cir.
8/22/18), 254 So.3d 1, 8. Although the legislature could have
defined "claimant" as those who have a right of
action under either La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 or 2315.2, it did
not do so; rather, the legislature specifically included the
language "representative" and "a
decedent's estate." La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4).
Furthermore, La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) does not state that the
representative or the estate can be a claimant only when the
classes of persons listed in La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2
do not exist.
legislature's choice of more expansive statutory language
is logical given the fundamental difference between a medical
review panel and a suit for medical malpractice. As
recognized by the court of appeal, "a request for a
medical review panel is a prerequisite to and not the
equivalent of a suit for medical malpractice."
Guffey, 254 So.3d at 8 (citing Houghton v. Our
Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc., 03-0135 (La.App. 1 Cir.
7/16/03), 859 So.2d 103, 105-106). Unlike a judge or jury in
a civil judicial proceeding, the medical review panel does
not have the power to adjudicate the rights of any party. The
panel is a body of experts assembled to evaluate a medical
claim and provide an expert opinion. The panel makes no
findings as to damages, and the findings of the medical
review panel are not binding on the litigants. There is no
focus whatsoever on the claimants during the medical review
panel process. See Truxillo, 200 So.3d at 976.
Although persons who are allowed to eventually file a claim
in a court is limited by law, it makes no difference when the
judicial process begins who initiated the panel proceedings,
or who or when others joined or not. Moreover, as explained
by the court of appeal, the precise wording of La. R.S.
40:1231.1(A)(4) provides that "all persons claiming to
have sustained damages as a result of injuries to or death of
any one patient are considered a single claimant,"
clearly contemplates the filing of a single request for a
medical review panel, with the intent that the rights of all
potential plaintiffs are protected." Guffey,
254 So.3d at 9 (citing Truxillo, 200 So.3d at 975).
above reasons, I find Deana was a proper claimant under La.
R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) and her filing of the request for the
formation of the medical review panel interrupted
prescription as to all potential plaintiffs, including James
and George. I would ...