Iowa Adopts “Contradictory Affidavit Rule” and Holds Conceived, Yet Unborn Child Has a Claim for Parental Consortium

Posted on: May 9th, 2016

Plaintiffs appealed from a district court decision granting summary judgment to defendant medical providers, contending the district court erred in concluding the plaintiffs’ wrongful death and loss of consortium claims were time-barred.

Decedent Paul Gray was receiving medical care from Defendant Dr. Baldi, an addiction medicine and pain management specialist. Dr. Baldi was aware of the decedent’s substance abuse, and his treatment of the decedent involved examinations, diagnoses, and prescriptions of various medications. On May 24, 2010, the decedent died due to an overdose or lethal combination of medications. The decedent’s wife, Brenna Gray, was pregnant when he died.  Gray later gave birth to a daughter. On February 14, 2014, Gray filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Dr. Baldi, and other medical providers and institutions, alleging negligent medical care. The petition listed three plaintiffs asserting three different claims: the decedent’s estate asserting wrongful death, Gray asserting loss of spousal consortium, and Gray’s minor child asserting loss of parental consortium.

Defendants argued the wrongful death and spousal consortium claims were time barred since they were filed more than two years after the decedent’s death—the date on which the claimant knew, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have known of decedent’s death. Defendants asserted the minor child’s parental consortium claim was untimely because it was also filed more than two years after the decedent’s death, and the child was ineligible for tolling the statute of limitations. See Iowa Code section 614.1(9)(b) (providing actions arising out of medical care and brought on behalf of a minor who was under the age of eight years when the act occurred, shall be commenced no later than the minor’s tenth birthday).  Defendants argued Gray’s child was not a “minor” child at the time of decedent’s death, and therefore, the child was not entitled to protection under the tolling statute.

Gray argued the spousal consortium and wrongful death claims were timely under the discovery rule. In her resistance to summary judgment, Gray filed an affidavit stating that to the best of her “knowledge, recollection, understanding, and belief,” she did not discover Dr. Baldi might have caused or contributed to decedent’s death until less than two years before the petition was filed. In reviewing the record, the Iowa Supreme Court found the affidavit contradicted Gray’s earlier sworn testimony in the related criminal case. The court disregarded Gray’s affidavit and adopted the contradictory affidavit rule: a party resisting summary judgment cannot create sham issues of fact in an effort to defeat summary judgment. Thus, the Court held Gray’s resistance to summary judgment was inadequate because the affidavit contradicted earlier sworn testimony without explanation, and therefore, it did not engender a genuine issue of material fact.

In regards to the loss of parental consortium claim, the Court held a child conceived, but not yet born at the time of their parent’s death, can bring a parental consortium claim after the child is born.  The Court found Gray’s minor child qualified for protection under Iowa Code section 614.1(9)(6) because she was a “minor” under the age of eight at the time the action was filed, and because her alleged loss of consortium arose when she was born. The case was remanded for further proceedings on the parental consortium claim.

Estate of Paul Dedrick Gray, et al. v. Baldi, et al. No. 14-1547 (May 6, 2016).

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