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Martin v. Staheli

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 19, 2019

BRADFORD F. MARTIN and CARMEN P. MARTIN, husband and wife, Plaintiffs/Appellants,
VICTOR K. STAHELI M.D., and "JANE DOE" STAHELI, husband and wife, et al., Defendants/Appellees.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Navajo County No. S0900CV201600214 The Honorable Dale P. Nielson, Judge.

          McNamara Goldsmith, P.C., Tucson By Michael F. McNamara Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

          Jones, Skelton & Hochili PLC, Phoenix By Eileen Dennis GilBride (argued) Co-Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Terrence Cavanaugh and White Mountain Radiology PLLC.

          Kent & Wittekind PC, Phoenix By Richard A. Kent and Callie P Maxwell Co-Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Terrence Cavanaugh and White Mountain Radiology PLLC.

          Broening Oberg Woods & Wilson, Phoenix By James R. Broening, Megan E. Gailey, and Alice M. Jones Counsel for Defendant/Appellee Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center.

          Renaud Cook Drury Mesaros, PA, Phoenix By William W. Drury, Jr. and Jeffrey S. Hunter Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Victor K. Staheli, M.D., Curtis Jones, and White Mountain Emergency Physicians PC.

          Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, LLP, Phoenix By Jodi L. Mullis and Christopher K. Heo Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Aureus Radiology, LLC, and Jennifer Walcoff.

          Slutes, Sakrison & Rogers, PC, Tucson By Kathleen M. Rogers Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Banner University Medical Center, Tucson Campus, LLC, Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) dba The University of Arizona College of Medicine, and University Medical Center Corporation.

          Judge Paul J. McMurdie delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Samuel A. Thumma and Judge Jennifer M. Perkins joined.


          McMurdie, Judge.

         ¶1 Carmen Martin, individually and as the executor of her late husband Bradford Martin's estate, appeals the superior court's dismissal of the complaint alleging medical negligence against several medical professionals and their respective employers. We reverse the judgment in favor of the defendants and hold: (1) an injured party's death extinguishes his or her claim for hedonic damages, but it does not extinguish the familial consortium claims of the surviving family members; (2) the alleged medical malpractice victim's estate may maintain a claim for economic damages after the victim's death; (3) prejudice must be present before a court may deny substitution of a decedent's estate; and (4) the statute of limitations does not begin to run on a minor child's loss-of-consortium claim until the child reaches majority.


         ¶2 In August 2014, Bradford Martin went to the emergency department at Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center after a fall. Dr. Victor Staheli, radiologist Dr. Terrance Cavanaugh, and physician assistant Curtis Jones treated Martin. After Dr. Cavanaugh interpreted the x-rays, the medical providers determined Martin was "stable" and discharged him. Three days later, Martin claimed he felt his back "drop" or "break" when attempting to sit. He again went to Summit Healthcare, where it was confirmed that Martin had suffered "a profound fracture at T12-L1."

         ¶3 In May 2016, Martin and his wife Carmen filed this case, alleging medical negligence against Dr. Staheli, Dr. Cavanaugh, Jones, and Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center. The Martins later added White Mountain Emergency Physicians, P.C., as Dr. Staheli's and Jones' employer, and White Mountain Radiology, PLLC, as Dr. Cavanaugh's. Additional defendants Jennifer Walcoff and her employer, Aureus Radiology, LLC, and Banner University Medical Center were later added as defendants. We refer to all the defendants collectively as the "Medical Providers."

         ¶4 The Martins alleged that Dr. Cavanaugh's incorrect interpretation of the x-ray, and Dr. Staheli's and Jones' failure to properly examine and treat Martin, led him to being improperly discharged without further imaging that would have confirmed the presence of the spinal fractures and instability that put him at risk for the serious spinal cord injury that he later suffered. The Martins alleged that they both suffered mental pain and suffering, including a loss of consortium, and suffered and would continue to suffer economic damages, including medical expenses, loss of income, and ongoing nursing home care as a result of the injuries to Martin.

         ¶5 On April 4, 2018, Martin passed away suddenly after being diagnosed with cancer the week before. His death was unrelated to the alleged medical negligence. On April 6, 2018, Martin's widow filed a notice of his death. The Medical Providers then moved to dismiss the entire complaint.

         ¶6 The motion to dismiss focused on the consortium claims. The Medical Providers claimed that because Martin's death was unrelated to the alleged medical malpractice, "there [was] no legal basis for a wrongful death claim," and that "[Martin's] claim against these Defendants is invalid as a matter of law because he has passed away for reasons unrelated to medical negligence," therefore, "any claims derivative of the medical malpractice claim - including loss of consortium -do not survive [Martin's] death." The motion did not provide a basis for dismissing the claims for economic damages, including medical expenses, loss of income, and Martin's inability to live at home as a result of the injuries. Nevertheless, the motion concluded: "Plaintiffs' loss of consortium claim did not survive [Martin's] death. As such, Plaintiffs' [Complaint] must be dismissed."

         ¶7 Martin's widow responded to the motion to dismiss and moved to amend the complaint to add Martin's estate and Martin's children's claims for loss of consortium. Her response noted that "[Martin's] claim in this case continues to be pursued on behalf of his estate pursuant to [Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 14-3110 ("Survival Statute")]," and argued that a family member's loss-of-consortium claim is not extinguished upon the death of the injured party.

         ¶8 Rather than addressing the claims for economic damages, The Medical Providers' reply argued only about the consortium claims. They asserted that the legislature must create a cause of action before the family could recover premortem loss-of-consortium damages after the injured party's death, as it had when it enacted A.R.S. §§ 12-611 through -613 (the "Wrongful Death Statutes"). The Medical Providers concluded: "because there is no remaining viable loss of consortium claim for Mrs. Martin, this case must be dismissed with prejudice." (Emphasis added.) They also opposed the motion to amend to add Martin's minor children, stating that: (1) the amendment would be futile because Martin's children's claims for loss of consortium fail for the same reasons as his widow's; (2) the statute of limitations had expired on the children's claims; and (3) the undue delay would prejudice the Medical Providers. The Medical Providers did not address the request to substitute Martin's estate.

         ¶9 The court held oral argument on the various motions, and, after taking the matter under advisement, dismissed the complaint in its entirety. The court noted that a loss-of-consortium claim is derivative of the injured party's claim. The court then held that under the Survival Statute, the claims for loss of consortium were extinguished upon Martin's death. Martin's widow moved for clarification about the status of the motion to amend and whether the court had intended to dismiss the claims for economic damages. The court denied the motion, stating that the claims "were derivative and since [Martin] was deceased the claims could not survive his death" and because the motion to amend "was primarily based on the [same] issues," it had implicitly denied that motion as well.

         ¶10 Martin's widow moved for a new trial, restating that she and Martin's estate had viable claims for economic damages and maintaining that the court improperly dismissed her consortium claim. The Medical Providers' response ignored the economic damages argument in its entirety, stating: "Plaintiffs' claims of loss of consortium were extinguished by the death of Mr. Martin from cancer. The facts and the law will not change no matter how many times they are recited and Plaintiffs will not be entitled to relief in this case no matter how many times they ask for it." The superior court denied the motion for a new trial and entered final judgments with awards of costs to the Medical Providers.

         ¶11 Martin's widow appealed, and we have jurisdiction under A.R.S. ...

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