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Estate of Desela v. Prescott Unified School District - 4/20/2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Statute of Limitations Is Tolled For Assigned Claim During Period In Which Claim Assignee Is a Minor If Assignment Occurs Before Limitations Period Expires Against Assignor.

A high school student suffered a severe head injury at the age of 16 during a break from a school musical rehearsal.  Three months later, the student’s mother assigned the mother’s potential tort claim against the school district or its employees for the injury to the injured daughter or the daughter’s estate.  The daughter filed a timely notice of claim against the school district and two of its employees (collectively “Defendants”).  An estate was opened for the daughter (the “Estate”).  One year after the daughter turned 18, the Estate filed suit against the Defendants for past and future medical expenses and other damages. 

Defendants moved to dismiss the assigned claim for medical expenses based on the failure to file suit within one year of the injury.  The superior court granted the motion and entered judgment on that claim pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ariz. R. Civ. P.  The Estate appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.  The assignment of the cause of action before the one-year statute of limitations had run under A.R.S. § 12-821 tolled the statute of limitations under A.R.S. § 12-502 until the daughter turned 18.  The court rejected Defendants’ argument that the Estate, as assignee standing in the shoes of the assignor, was bound by the same limitations period that would govern a claim brought by the mother.  Because the assignment of claim occurred before the expiration of the limitations period for the assignor (mother), it was thereafter governed by the limitations period for the assignee (daughter), and was therefore tolled until the daughter turned 18.  See A.R.S. § 44-144 (“An assignment of a chose in action shall not prejudice any set-off or other defense existing at the time of the notice of the assignment.”) (Emphasis added).

Judge Kessler wrote the opinion; Judges Irvine and Brown concurred.

Posted By:  Mark P. Hummels

Posted On: 4/27/2010