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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Lengthier U.S. limitations period allows claim over accidental deaths of medical students in Nevis

The Massachusetts three-year statute of limitations rather than a foreign one-year statute of limitations permitted wrongful death suits in the tragic case of two medical students killed while studying abroad, a trial court ruled in March.

Plaintiffs' decedents were students from New Jersey and California studying at the Medical University of the Americas (MUA) on the island of Nevis, in the Federation of St. Christopher (Kitts) and Nevis, in the West Indies. MUA is a nonprofit based in Devens, Massachusetts.

MUA campus, Nevis
(Bazi014 CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The women suffered fatal burns in their MUA dormitory when a gas cooking stove connected to an external propane tank exploded. Plaintiffs sued MUA two years later in negligence, alleging failure to inspect and maintain the stove and gas piping.

The defendant sought dismissal under the one-year statute of limitation in Nevis law. The plaintiffs contended that the more generous three-year limitations period in Massachusetts pertained.

The Superior Court in Worcester, Mass., explained the choice-of-law analysis, relying on Commonwealth high court precedent and the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws:

Massachusetts applies a functional approach in determining the statute of limitations when a choice of law question arises.... Generally, Massachusetts "will apply its own statute of limitations permitting the claim unless: (a) maintenance of the claim would serve no substantial interest of the forum; and (b) the claim would be barred under the statute of limitations of a state having a more significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence." .... "Stated in affirmative terms, a forum should apply its own statute of limitations permitting the claim if it would advance a substantial forum interest and would not seriously impinge upon the interests of other states." .... The focus of this choice of law analysis is on the timeliness of the action, rather than the underlying claim.

The court reasoned that oversight of the dorm was a function of the defendant's management in and directives from Massachusetts. And Nevis's interest was less than Massachusetts's when it is a Massachusetts defendant that faces liability.

The defendant also sought dismissal for forum non conveniens, and the court decided that the question is premature.

The case is Balasanyan v. R3 Education Inc., No. 2085CV01052 (Mass. Super. Ct. Mar. 29, 2022), Justice David M. Hodge presiding.

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