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2-Year Statute of Limitations Applies to Responsible Third Parties in Health Care Liability Claims

by Lauren M. Nelson, JD on January 27th, 2011

On January 21, 2011, the Texas Supreme Court issued several opinions affecting health care liability claims. In Molinet v. Kimbrell, the Court addressed the statutory conflict between the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (“CPRC”) § 74.251(a)’s two-year limitations period for health care liability claims and CPRC § 33.004 which allows claims to be brought against designated responsible third parties outside the limitations period. The Court held § 74.251(a) controls, thus barring claims against designated responsible third parties that are brought outside the limitations period.

Plaintiff Jeremy Molinet injured his Achilles tendon in 2004. Shortly after the injury, Dr. John Horan surgically repaired the tendon. Later that year, Molinet re-injured the tendon and had it surgically repaired by Dr. Marque Allen. That same year Molinet received treatment from Dr. Patrick Kimbrell, a wound treatment specialist. In 2005, Molinet filed suit against Dr. Allen and several other health care providers, but did not name Dr. Horan or Dr. Kimbrell. In 2007, more than two-and-a-half years later, Dr. Allen designated both physicians as responsible third parties pursuant to § 33.004(a). Molinet amended his pleadings to include Drs. Horan and Kimbrell. Both physicians moved for summary judgment on the ground the claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motions and the physicians appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s order, holding § 74.251(a) trumps § 33.004(e) and dismissed Molinet’s claims against Drs. Horan and Kimbrell. Molinet appealed.

Molinet argued the two provisions did not conflict and, in the alternative, if there was a conflict, that § 33.004(e) controls and provides an exception to the two-year limitations period. The Court disagreed, finding the two provisions did conflict. The Court opined that the limitations provision of § 74.251(a) would bar Molinet’s action against the two physicians while § 33.004(e) would prevent that limitations period from barring it. The Court found that § 74.251(a), providing for a two-year limitations period “[n]otwithstanding any other law,” was clear and unambiguous and required application of the limitations period to Molinet’s claims. Accordingly, the Court held § 74.251(a) barred Molinet’s suit against Drs. Horan and Kimbrell.

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