Minnesota Passes Survivorship Bill, Expanding Justice for Victims of Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death

August 2023

REAL TALK: The Robins Kaplan Business Law Update by the Women of Business Litigation.

On May 20, 2023, Minnesota became the last state to pass a Survivorship Bill, expanding the damages that families can pursue after losing a loved one.

Liz Fors, co-chair of the Legislative Committee for Minnesota Association for Justice (MAJ) and partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, said MAJ has been working on behalf of consumers for over a decade to get this bill passed.

“We have been lobbying and educating our representatives and senators about the need for this bill for years,” Fors said. “One of our top priorities for 2023 was to get this law passed.”

There are two primary scenarios in which the Minnesota Survivorship Statute is pertinent, she explained. The first is when someone is the victim of medical malpractice but dies from an unrelated cause. Prior to the law being passed, the case could not be carried on after the person’s death. Unfortunately, this situation was not uncommon when the person was very old or sick, and defense attorneys have been known to drag their feet in those cases.

In one instance, a wife lobbying for the Minnesota Survivorship Bill testified about a situation with her husband, who was suffering from stage 4 colon cancer. During one of the surgeries required to treat his cancer, a 12-inch sponge was left inside his abdomen. It was discovered two weeks later. He was hospitalized for nearly two months after it was removed, losing nearly 50 pounds and undergoing surgery after surgery to insert drains in all the infected abscesses the sponge left behind. 

The couple hired a lawyer and offered to negotiate a fair settlement, but the hospital did not respond. After moving forward with a lawsuit, the hospital denied any negligence and requested a jury trial, which is now set after Thanksgiving. 

“In my mind, there can be only one reason for the hospital to refuse to negotiate and to include ridiculous defenses and to ask for a jury trial—and that is they are hoping he will die from cancer before they can be held accountable for their negligence,” the wife said.

Fors recalls another case involving victims of alleged abuse in Minnesota nursing homes.

“Years ago in Southern Minnesota, there were numerous investigations at nursing homes where residents were sexually and physically abused,” Fors said. “Many of the victims died from unrelated causes before the lawsuit was resolved and their families could never hold the wrongdoers accountable.”

The second scenario involves claims for the deceased’s pain and suffering, and emotional distress. The previous law only allowed families to bring a claim for wrongful death when a loved one died from medical malpractice. The deceased’s economic damages, such as lost wages, were assessed. The families could only claim the loss of the relationship with their loved one, not the deceased’s pain and suffering.  

“Now we can get justice for these families,” Fors said. “We don’t have to ignore the horrible things that their loved ones went through.”

With the passage of the bill, Fors and other members of the firm’s Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Group are seeking to amend complaints to add these damages for a number of clients. They look forward to helping their clients finally get the justice they deserve and hold the wrongdoers accountable.

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