Christus St. Vincent Reg'l Med. Ctr. v. Duarte-Afara, 30,343.

Docket NºNo. 30,343.
Citation2011 -NMCA- 112, 267 P.3d 70
Case DateOctober 12, 2011
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

2011 -NMCA- 112
267 P.3d 70

CHRISTUS ST. VINCENT REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Third–Party Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Ramon DUARTE–AFARA, M.D., and Mark Wade Dickinson, M.D., Third–Party Defendants–Appellants.

No. 30,343.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

May 9, 2011.Certiorari Granted, Oct. 12, 2011, No. 33,166.


[267 P.3d 71]

Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, L.L.P., William P. Slattery, David B. Lawrenz, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.

Allen, Shepherd, Lewis, Syra & Chapman, P.A., E.W. Shepherd, J. Adam Tate, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellant Duarte–Afara, M.D.

Butt, Thornton & Baehr, P.C., W. Ann Maggiore, Emily A. Franke, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellant Dickinson, M.D.
OPINION
CASTILLO, Chief Judge.

{1} The primary issue before us is whether the claim of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (Medical Center) for equitable indemnification is a malpractice claim governed by the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), NMSA 1978, §§ 41–5–1 to –29 (1976, as amended through 2008), and subject to the three-year statute of repose provided by Section 41–5–13 of the MMA. We hold that Medical Center's claim is governed by the MMA and subject to Section 41–5–13. We also consider whether due process and equal protection concerns preclude application of Section 41–5–13 and conclude that they do not. Accordingly, we reverse.

BACKGROUND

{2} On December 6, 2004, Lillian Martinez (Martinez) received a hysterectomy at Medical Center. Several days later, on December 9 and 10, she developed respiratory problems and ultimately suffered brain damage. On December 4, 2007, almost three years later, Martinez filed a complaint against Medical Center under the MMA alleging medical malpractice. Specifically, Martinez alleged that Medical Center failed to adequately monitor her after surgery, administered inappropriate and/or excessive medications, failed to timely and properly diagnose and treat her respiratory problems, and failed to timely diagnose and treat her while she was experiencing a significant life-threatening medical emergency.

{3} Martinez filed an application for panel review with the New Mexico Medical Review Commission on March 6, 2008, asking the commission to, in part, review the conduct of Dr. Duarte–Afara and Dr. Dickinson (Doctors), the physicians who treated her at Medical Center and Appellants in this case. On March 12, 2008, Martinez amended her December 4, 2004 complaint against Medical Center to include Doctors.

{4} In response to Martinez's amended complaint, Doctors filed motions for summary judgment in June 2008 asserting that Martinez's claims against them were barred by the three-year time period set forth in Section 41–5–13 of the MMA. Id. (stating that “[n]o claim for malpractice arising out of an act of malpractice ... may be brought against a health care provider unless filed within three years after the date that the act of malpractice occurred”). The district court agreed with Doctors and dismissed Martinez's claims against Doctors with prejudice.

{5} On December 22, 2008, Medical Center filed a third-party complaint for indemnification against Dr. Duarte–Afara in which Medical Center sought indemnification in the amount, if any, for which it may be found

[267 P.3d 72]

vicariously liable for Dr. Duarte–Afara's malpractice. On March 19, 2009, Medical Center amended its third-party complaint to include an indemnification claim against Dr. Dickinson.

{6} In response to Medical Center's amended third-party complaint, Doctors filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Medical Center's indemnification claim was also barred by Section 41–5–13. Medical Center countered that Section 41–5–13 is not controlling, claimed that the four-year statute of limitations provided in NMSA 1978, Section 37–1–4 (1929) governed their amended third-party complaint, and asserted that its indemnification claim could proceed. The district court agreed with Doctors and granted their motion to dismiss.

{7} In March 2010, the district court granted Medical Center's motion to reconsider the court's dismissal of its claims against the Doctors. The court determined that “[b]ecause this matter is a claim for indemnification rather than malpractice ... Section 41–5–13 ... is inapplicable[,]” and further determined that “[t]he statutory time limit for the third-party claims for indemnification in this matter does not begin to run until the claim of indemnity accrues, which is at the time of payment of the underlying claim, judgment, or settlement, and not from the time that the underlying damage occurred to [Martinez].” We accepted Doctors' request for interlocutory review on the issue of the applicability of the MMA and Section 41–5–13 to Medical Center's indemnification claim against Doctors.

DISCUSSION

{8} On appeal, Doctors argue, as they did below, that Medical Center's indemnification claim is governed by the MMA and subject to Section 41–5–13. Because, as explained below, we agree with this argument, we also address Medical Center's contention that application of Section 41–5–13 would deprive them of their due process and equal protections rights.

Applicability of the MMA and Section 41–5–13

{9} To address Medical Center's indemnification claim, we must construe Section 41–5–13 as it applies to the facts of this case. We review such matters de novo. Bd. of Comm'rs of Rio Arriba Cnty. v. Greacen, 2000–NMSC–016, ¶ 4, 129 N.M. 177, 3 P.3d 672 (“This is primarily a matter of statutory construction and thereby concerns a pure question of law, subject to de novo review.”); Ponder v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2000–NMSC–033, ¶ 7, 129 N.M. 698, 12 P.3d 960 (“We review de novo the [district] court's application of the law to the facts in arriving at its legal conclusions.”). “This Court's primary goal when interpreting statutes is to further legislative intent.” Jordan v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2010–NMSC–051, ¶ 15, 149 N.M. 162, 245 P.3d 1214. To determine legislative intent, “we look to the language used and consider the statute's history and background.” Key v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 121 N.M. 764, 768–69, 918 P.2d 350, 354–55 (1996). We begin by examining the history and purpose behind the MMA and Section 41–5–13.

{10} The MMA was enacted in response to a perceived malpractice insurance crisis in New Mexico. Roberts v. Sw. Cmty. Health Servs., 114 N.M. 248, 251–52, 837 P.2d 442, 445–46 (1992). Through the MMA, the Legislature made professional liability insurance available to health care providers but conditioned availability to that insurance on a quid pro quo: health care providers could receive the benefits of the MMA only if they became qualified health care providers under the MMA and accepted the burdens of doing so. Id.; see also Cummings v. X–Ray Assocs. of N.M., P.C., 1996–NMSC–035, ¶¶ 27–29, 121 N.M. 821, 918 P.2d 1321 (discussing the benefits and burdens of participation in the MMA).

{11} Section 41–5–13 is one benefit health care providers receive in accepting the burdens of the MMA. See Cummings, 1996–NMSC–035, ¶ 29, 121 N.M. 821, 918 P.2d 1321 (describing the Legislature's decision to enact Section 41–5–13 as one of the “[t]he most notable” benefits under the MMA); Roberts, 114 N.M. at 252–53, 837 P.2d at 446–47 (identifying Section 41–5–13 as one of the benefits inuring to qualified health care providers under the MMA). This provision provides the following:

[267 P.3d 73]

No claim for malpractice arising out of an act of malpractice which occurred subsequent to the effective date of the [MMA] may be brought against a health care provider unless filed within three years after the date that the act of malpractice occurred except that a minor under the full age of six years shall have until his ninth birthday in which to file. This section applies to all persons regardless of minority or other legal disability.

Section 41–5–13 (alteration omitted).

{12} Section 41–5–13 addressed one of the reasons insurance carriers were withdrawing from medical malpractice: the potential for malpractice liability coverage suits being filed long after the act of malpractice. Cummings, 1996–NMSC–035, ¶ 40, 121 N.M. 821, 918 P.2d 1321. Our Supreme Court has previously concluded that the plain language of Section 41–5–13 demonstrates that the Legislature intended the “occurrence rule” to govern claims controlled by the MMA. Cummings, 1996–NMSC–035, ¶¶ 47–48, 121 N.M. 821, 918 P.2d 1321. The occurrence rule fixes the accrual date in which a patient must file a claim for medical malpractice at the time of the act or occurrence of medical malpractice even if the patient is oblivious of any harm. See id. ¶ 47. As such, Section 41–5–13 will function, under certain circumstances, as a statute of repose. See Cummings, 1996–NMSC–035, ¶¶ 48–50, 121 N.M. 821, 918 P.2d 1321 (describing the circumstances under which Section 41–5–13 may function either as a statute of limitations or as a statute of repose and explaining that “a statute of repose terminates the right to any action after a specific time has elapsed, even though no injury has yet manifested itself”). Having established the general principles that guide our analysis, we turn now to the more specific question of whether Medical Center's indemnification claim is governed by the MMA and thus subject to Section 41–5–13.

{13} The MMA comprehensively defines what constitutes a “malpractice claim.” See § 41–5–3(C).

“[M]alpractice claim” includes any cause of action arising in this state against a health care provider for medical treatment, lack of medical treatment or other claimed departure from accepted standards of health care which proximately results in injury to the patient, whether the patient's claim or cause of action sounds in tort or contract, and includes but is not limited to actions based on battery or wrongful death; “malpractice claim” does not include a cause of action arising out of the driving, flying or nonmedical acts involved in the operation, use or maintenance of a vehicular or aircraft...

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36 practice notes
  • Leger v. Leger, NO. A-1-CA-35807
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • November 28, 2018
    ...on acts of malpractice." Further, 444 P.3d 1038 Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center v. Duarte-Afara , 2011-NMCA-112, ¶¶ 1, 14-20, 267 P.3d 70, made clear that the character of an indemnification claim under the common law as "separate and distinct from the underlying tort" does not......
  • Leger v. Leger, S-1-SC-37450
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • December 2, 2021
    ...is based on Respondent's alleged medical malpractice. See Christus St. Vincent Reg'l Med. Ctr. v. Duarte-Afara , 2011-NMCA-112, ¶¶ 15, 18, 267 P.3d 70 ("[T]he controlling inquiry in determining whether a claim constitutes a ‘malpractice claim’ under the MMA is merely whether the gravamen of......
  • Vill. of Ruidoso v. Warner, No. 30,591.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • February 15, 2012
    ...issues raised by Defendant de novo. See Christus St. Vincent Reg'l Med. Ctr. v. Duarte–Afara, 2011–NMCA–112, ¶ 21, ––– N.M. ––––, 267 P.3d 70, cert. granted, 2011–NMCERT–010, ––– N.M. ––––, ––– P.3d –––– (No. 33,166, Oct. 12, 2011). There is a presumption that municipal ordinances are const......
  • Richter v. Presbyterian Healthcare Servs., & Reg'l Lab Corp., Nos. 30,926
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • May 2, 2014
    ...of negligence among defendants or non-parties.” {64} Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center v. Duarte–Afara, 2011–NMCA–112, 267 P.3d 70, does not change our analysis. In Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center we held that the hospital could not pursue an indemnification claim ag......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
36 cases
  • Leger v. Leger, NO. A-1-CA-35807
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • November 28, 2018
    ...on acts of malpractice." Further, 444 P.3d 1038 Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center v. Duarte-Afara , 2011-NMCA-112, ¶¶ 1, 14-20, 267 P.3d 70, made clear that the character of an indemnification claim under the common law as "separate and distinct from the underlying tort" does not......
  • Leger v. Leger, S-1-SC-37450
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • December 2, 2021
    ...is based on Respondent's alleged medical malpractice. See Christus St. Vincent Reg'l Med. Ctr. v. Duarte-Afara , 2011-NMCA-112, ¶¶ 15, 18, 267 P.3d 70 ("[T]he controlling inquiry in determining whether a claim constitutes a ‘malpractice claim’ under the MMA is merely whether the gravamen of......
  • Vill. of Ruidoso v. Warner, No. 30,591.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • February 15, 2012
    ...issues raised by Defendant de novo. See Christus St. Vincent Reg'l Med. Ctr. v. Duarte–Afara, 2011–NMCA–112, ¶ 21, ––– N.M. ––––, 267 P.3d 70, cert. granted, 2011–NMCERT–010, ––– N.M. ––––, ––– P.3d –––– (No. 33,166, Oct. 12, 2011). There is a presumption that municipal ordinances are const......
  • Richter v. Presbyterian Healthcare Servs., & Reg'l Lab Corp., Nos. 30,926
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • May 2, 2014
    ...of negligence among defendants or non-parties.” {64} Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center v. Duarte–Afara, 2011–NMCA–112, 267 P.3d 70, does not change our analysis. In Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center we held that the hospital could not pursue an indemnification claim ag......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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