The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has turned down a hospital's bid to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by family members of five patients killed by a former nurse.
The high court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal filed by St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill. The hospital had appealed a July 2009 ruling by a Lehigh County judge that allowed the family members' lawsuit against the hospital to proceed.
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Former nurse Charles Cullen is serving consecutive life sentences in New Jersey after admitting he killed at least 29 people at hospitals there and in Pennsylvania, including the five patients whose families are suing St. Luke's.
St. Luke's has denied knowing Cullen killed any patients and argued that the statute of limitations had run out by the time the plaintiffs filed suit in 2005.
But Lehigh County Judge Edward D. Reibman ruled that if St. Luke's concealed knowledge about Cullen -- also named as a defendant -- the statute of limitations wouldn't apply. The judge said a jury should be allowed to decide if the hospital concealed information.
Reibman has scheduled an October trial.
Cullen, 51, escaped the death penalty after agreeing to help prosecutors in seven counties identify patients whom he gave lethal drug overdoses. Cullen, who claimed to have killed 40 patients over a 16-year nursing career, has said he killed out of mercy. Many of his victims were old and very sick.
Reibman presided over an earlier civil trial in which a jury awarded $95 million in damages to the families of eight people who died at St. Luke's. Though he was never charged in those deaths, Cullen did not contest the lawsuit and Reibman ruled him legally responsible.
St. Luke's and four New Jersey hospitals where Cullen worked reached an undisclosed settlement in February 2008 with families of New Jersey patients whom Cullen admitted killing.
Cullen worked at St. Luke's from 2000 to 2002.
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