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Jensen v. IHC Health Services, Inc.

Jensen v. IHC Health Services, Inc., 2020 UT 57 (Peterson, J.)

Civil – Medical Malpractice; Statute of Limitations

A patient experienced cardiac arrest and brain damage after an abdominal surgery, and years later, he filed a malpractice claim against the hospital. A jury found the patient’s lawsuit was barred by the running of the applicable statute of limitations. On appeal, the patient argued that the district court erroneously instructed the jury concerning the definition of “the discovery of legal injury,” which starts the running of the applicable statute of limitations. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • The instructions as a whole adequately instructed the jury on the law relevant to the discovery of a legal injury.
  • The discovery of the legal injury refers both to the injury itself and the negligence that resulted in the injury. A patient’s subjective suspicion of negligence is not legally sufficient to show discovery of a legal injury. But the jury instruction that a patient’s discovery occurs when the patient knows “that the injury may have been caused by a negligent act of a medical provider” (rather than “that the injury was caused . . .”) did not wrongly indicate that subjective suspicion was enough because, coupled with the instructions defining “legal injury” and “negligence,” the instructions as a whole accurately conveyed the relevant law.
  • Although the Malpractice Act states that the discovery of the legal injury occurs when “the plaintiff or patient discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered” the legal injury, a jury instruction stating that the legal injury occurs when “the plaintiff or patient knows, or through the use of reasonable diligence should know . . .” was not erroneous where Utah case law uses the words “discover” and “know” interchangeably, and where the Plaintiff failed to show how the use of the word “know” in this instruction caused it to be legally incorrect.

Read the full court opinion

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