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In a recent decision, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss a negligence claim against two restaurants that served alcohol to an intoxicated driver who later caused a fatal car crash. The case, WEOC, Inc. v. Niebauer, involved the interpretation and application of Indiana’s Dram Shop Act, which limits the civil liability of entities that furnish alcoholic beverages to someone who causes injury due to intoxication.

The Court held that the Dram Shop Act did not eliminate the common-law liability of dram shops, but rather modified it by imposing two additional requirements: (1) the person furnishing the alcohol must have actual knowledge of the injury-causing person’s visible intoxication; and (2) the intoxication must be a proximate cause of the injury. The Court found that the plaintiff’s negligence claim satisfied these requirements and alleged facts capable of supporting relief.

The Court clarified the history and scope of dram-shop regulation in Indiana, which dates back to the late nineteenth century. The Court explained that Indiana’s dram shops have faced criminal liability for various conduct since then, and civil liability under principles of common-law negligence since the 1960s. The Court also noted that the Dram Shop Act, enacted in 1986, was not applicable in two previous cases that recognized the existence of independent common-law liability, Picadilly, Inc. v. Colvin and Gariup Construction Co. v. Foster.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued a decision in a case involving a woman who was injured while swimming in a health and fitness center’s pool. The case, Pennington v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Inc., raised several issues of premises liability and negligence against the pool owner, operator, and designers.

The plaintiff, Dr. Jennifer Pennington, was a member of the fitness center owned and operated by Memorial Hospital of South Bend, doing business as Beacon Health and Fitness. The fitness center had a rectangular, multi-purpose swimming pool that was designed by Panzica Building Corporation and Spear Corporation. The pool had a long ramp and a concrete “wing-wall” on one side, separating the ramp from the main swimming area. The wing-wall had a gap at the bottom, allowing swimmers to pass through, and another shorter wing-wall at the end of the pool near the entry steps. The wing-walls were designed to sit at the pool’s water level through an automatic leveling mechanism. The ends of the wing-walls were unpadded, and no floating lane divider was placed across the gap. However, backstroke pennants were strung above and across the width of the pool approximately fifteen feet from each end.

Dr. Pennington visited the pool during its first week of operation and swam several laps of various strokes in the lane adjacent to the wing-walls. After switching from freestyle to backstroke, she collided with the corner of the wing-wall by the entry steps, causing her injury.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently revived a personal injury claim involving the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and its applicability in the premise liability context. In Isgrig v. Trustees of Indiana University, Kiera Isgrig (“Isgrig”) was injured while studying in a building at Indiana University Bloomington (IU) when a window, which she and her friends had not tampered with, fell out of the wall and landed on Isgrig’s head, leaving shattered glass over her and the table she was sitting at. An IU employee came and examined the window. The employee noted the window could be partially opened when in its casing and other than two broken sash springs, which the employee believed would not have caused the window to fall out of its casing without warning, the employee did not find any other damage to the window and no reason to explain what happened, other than possible tampering at some point prior to the incident. The last time IU had performed maintenance on the window was around a year prior when it repaired the window’s blinds. IU did not perform any preventative, as opposed to reactive, maintenance on the window.

Isgrig filed a lawsuit against IU for her injuries relying on the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which translated from Latin means “the thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine allows an inference of negligence in situations where the nature of the incident is such that the person having control over the situation was likely negligent, even though no particular negligent act can be shown. To get an inference of negligence against a defendant with res ipsa loquitur in Indiana, a claimant must show (1) that the injuring instrumentality was within the exclusive management and control of the defendant, and (2) the incident is of the type that ordinarily does not happen if those who have management or control exercise proper care. As to the element of exclusive control, it is exclusive control over the injuring instrumentality at the time of the alleged negligent act or injury, with the focus on who had the right or power to control and the opportunity to exercise the control.

Here, in response to Isgrig’s lawsuit, IU moved for summary judgment in the trial court arguing that even with res ipsa loquitur Isgrig still had to establish its liability under premise liability law by proving it had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition of the window, which it argued it did not have, and that it did not otherwise have exclusive control of the window, making res ipsa loquitur inapplicable. The trial court ruled in favor of IU and Isgrig appealed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently considered whether a nurse who suffered a workplace injury can pursue a medical malpractice claim against a co-employee physician who treated the nurse for her injuries despite the exclusivity provision of Indiana’s Worker’s Compensation Act (WCA). In Gardner v. Anonymous Physician, Laurie Gardner (“Gardner”) contracted scabies from another patient while working for a hospital. Gardner filed a worker’s compensation claim against the hospital, which was subsequently resolved. Gardner also filed a medical malpractice claim against a co-employee physician, who was the medical director at the hospital, alleging the physician failed to timely and appropriately treat the patient with scabies, protect Gardner from exposure to scabies, which her family also contracted, direct Gardner’s care, provide appropriate and timely treatment to Gardner, and refer Gardner to an appropriate specialist for treatment.

The physician filed a motion for preliminary determination in court requesting that Gardner’s medical malpractice claim be dismissed pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The physician argued Gardner’s claim was foreclosed by the exclusivity provision of the WCA, which provides that an employee’s rights and remedies under the WCA providing compensation for accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of employment exclude all other rights and remedies of the employee, except for remedies for victims of violent crimes. Ind. Code § 22-3-2-6. However, despite its exclusivity provision, the WCA specifically permits employees to pursue claims against third parties causing injury, that is, persons other than an employer and those “in the same employ.” Ind. Code § 22-3-2-13. The WCA defines “employer” broadly to include parent corporations and subsidiaries, which are deemed joint employers. Ind. Code § 22-3-6-1(a). Here, under the WCA, the hospital for which Gardner worked was a joint employer of the physician, and therefore, he was “in the same employ” as Gardner. As such, the trial court granted the physician’s motion to dismiss Gardner’s malpractice claim.

On appeal Gardner argued, based upon the Court of Appeals’ decision in Ross v. Schubert, 388 N.E.2d 623 (Ind. Ct. App. 1979), that the physician was an independent contractor and therefore not a fellow employee in the same employ as Gardner. The physician in turn argued the holding in Ross had eroded over time and was no longer applicable. While recognizing that the independent contractor rationale in Ross was no longer applicable, the Court of Appeals nonetheless found the holding in Ross was still good law. The Court in Ross had noted that prior to the legislature adding the language “in the same employ” to the WCA, the Indiana Supreme Court had adopted a rule that a physician, whether hired by an employer or not, was a third party under the WCA, with the Court in Ross finding the addition of that language was not intended to immunize physicians for care arising out of a doctor-patient relationship as opposed to an employer-employee relationship.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reviewed Indiana’s “firefighter’s rule,” ultimately ruling in favor of a firefighter injured while responding to a building fire in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In Dolsen v. VeoRide, Inc., firefighter Richard Dolsen, Jr. (“Dolsen”) responded to a fire at a building owned by Sweet Real Estate – City Center, LLC (“Sweet”) and leased to VeoRide, Inc. (“VeoRide”). VeoRide, an electric scooter company, stored scooters, batteries, and battery equipment at the building. One of the batteries ignited, causing the fire. While no VeoRide employees were at the building when the fire started, VeoRide and Sweet employees were notified of the fire and knew firefighters were responding to the fire. Dolsen, who had never been in the building before, could not see as he entered the building due to a lack of light and smoke, and as he was moving around the perimeter of the building, he fell through an open wall comprised of bare wooden studs, falling into a stairwell. At the time of the incident, Dolsen had a radio, such that any warning sent by VeoRide or Sweet could have quickly and easily been conveyed to him. Dolsen testified over his career there had been many occasions where commercial building owners or tenants would alert the fire department about potential dangers inside buildings, such as holes in floors.

Dolsen filed a personal injury lawsuit against VeoRide and Sweet alleging negligence in the handling of the batteries at the building and in failing to warn Dolsen about the opening in the wall. VeoRide filed a motion for summary judgment arguing Dolsen’s claims were barred by Indiana’s firefighter’s rule. Sweet filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it could not be held liable since it had given full possession and control of the building to VeoRide. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment, finding Dolsen’s claims were barred by Indiana’s firefighter’s rule. Dolsen appealed the trial court’s order only with respect to VeoRide.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reviewed Indiana Supreme Court precedent on Indiana’s firefighter’s rule. According to that precedent, Indiana’s firefighter’s rule bars any claim by a professional emergency responder for any negligent conduct that created the emergency responded to. As such, with regards to Dolsen’s claim arising from any negligence by VeoRide in handling the battery that caused the fire, the Court held that such claim was barred by the firefighter’s rule. However, as noted by the Court, Indiana’s firefighter’s rule does not bar a claim when an injury is caused by conduct separate and apart from the conduct that contributed to the emergency, even if that conduct occurred prior to the emergency responder arriving on the scene. Here, Dolsen also alleged VeoRide was negligent in failing to warn him of the dangers associated with the open wall next to the stairwell. The Court found such claim was separate from and independent of any negligent conduct causing the fire, and therefore, was not barred by Indiana’s firefighter’s rule.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s order directing patients in related medical malpractice claims to redact portions of their submissions tendered to medical review panels formed to review the cases under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. In Bojko v. Anonymous Physician, 215 N.E.3d 376 (Ind. Ct. App. 2023), six patients filed medical malpractice claims against a physician and the physician’s practice (the “physician”). After medical review panels were formed in each of the cases, the patients tendered separate, but in parts similar, submissions to the panels. Among other things, the patients’ submissions referenced a medical malpractice complaint filed by the physician’s wife on behalf of the physician’s estate (the physician was allegedly killed after being prematurely discharged from a hospital ER) wherein the physician’s wife stated the physician suffered from chronic alcohol and drug abuse with signs of mental illness. The physician in Bojko objected and filed a petition in court requesting the trial court order non-evidentiary allegations in the patients’ submissions be redacted. After a hearing, the trial court granted the physician’s petition and ordered the patients to redact “any and all references to the [malpractice complaint]” filed by the physician’s wife and “any and all references to allegations of drug and/or alcohol abuse or mental health issues of [the physician].”

Indiana patients pursuing medical malpractice claims against healthcare providers covered under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act must first present their cases to medical review panels, which are comprised of one non-voting advisory attorney and three healthcare providers selected by the parties, and receive opinions from the medical review panels before pursing those cases in court. Ind. Code §§ 34-18-8-4, 8-7, 10-3 to 10-10. After the panels are formed, the parties are to submit “evidence,” which “may consist of medical charts, x-rays, lab tests, excerpts of treatises, depositions of witnesses including parties, and any other form of evidence allowable by the medical review panel.” Ind. Code § 34-18-10-17. Panels are then to “express [their] expert opinion as to whether or not the evidence supports the conclusion that the defendant or defendants acted or failed to act within the appropriate standards of care as charged in the complaint,” and whether “[t]he conduct complained of was or was not a factor of the resultant damages.” Ind. Code § 34-18-10-22. Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, “[a] party, attorney, or panelist who fails to act as required by [the Act] without good cause shown is subject to mandate or appropriate sanctions upon application to the court… having jurisdiction.” Ind. Code § 34-18-10-14.

On appeal the patients in Bojko argued the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the physician’s petition ordering them to redact portions of their submissions. However, in its decision affirming the trial court, the Indiana Court of Appeals referenced its prior decision in Sherrow v. GYN, Ltd., 745 N.E.2d 880 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), in which it found that Indiana Code section 34-18-10-14 of the Medical Malpractice Act supplied subject matter jurisdiction to trial courts to order redaction of legal argument in “evidentiary submissions because legal argument is not ‘evidence.’” Sherrow, 745 N.E.2d at 884-885. Similar to legal argument, the Court in Bojko reasoned “unsworn [and] unsubstantiated allegations in a third-party proposed medical malpractice complaint are not evidence as described in Indiana Code Section 34-18-10-17.” Bojko, 215 N.E.3d at 380. According to the Court, Indiana Code sections 34-18-10-17 and 10-22 of the Medical Malpractice Act require panel opinions to be “based on the actual facts (and sworn testimony regarding those facts) of the particular case before the panel and not on mere allegations raised in another case or cases,” which are “non-evidentiary matters [that] are ‘inappropriate in evidentiary submissions’ to a medical review panel.” Bojko, 215 N.E.3d at 381. Finding the trial court had authority under Indiana Code section 34-18-10-14 to mandate compliance with Indiana Code section 34-18-10-17, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order requiring redactions of the patients’ submissions.

In Z.D. v. Community Health Network, Inc., the Indiana Supreme Court addressed a patient’s claim for invasion of privacy and negligence against a hospital that disclosed her private health information to a wrong person.

Z.D. received medical care at Community Health Network’s emergency department in 2018. A hospital employee called Z.D. to discuss her health matters but could not reach her. The employee then prepared a letter containing Z.D.’s diagnosis and treatment, but placed it in an envelope addressed to Jonae Kendrick, a teenager who knew Z.D.’s daughter. Kendrick opened the letter, posted it on Facebook, and tried to tag Z.D. Z.D.’s daughter saw the post and notified her mother. Kendrick declined Z.D.’s daughter’s request to remove the post. However, Kendrick later relented and removed the post in response to Z.D.’s request that she remove the post and return the letter in exchange for $100. Z.D. sued the hospital for invasion of privacy and negligence, seeking damages for emotional distress and other losses.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the hospital on all of Z.D.’s claims. The court found that the hospital was not the proximate cause of Z.D.’s damages, that Z.D. could not recover emotional-distress damages in her negligence claim due to the modified impact rule, and that Z.D. did not bring a claim for public disclosure of private facts.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently examined whether an individual who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to voluntary manslaughter can sue his mental health providers for negligence and emotional distress. The case presented quite a complicated procedural and factual history and, ultimately, generated a strongly worded dissent by the Chief Justice.

By way of background, Plaintiff, Zachary Miller (Miller) pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the voluntary manslaughter of his grandfather, which left his grandmother, Betty Miller, widowed. The conduct and killing arising out of Miller’s actions generated two previous appeals arising out of the same conduct. In Miller I, a case we previously blogged about here, the Court found that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act’s (EMTALA) statute of limitations did not preempt a state rule allowing for amendments relating back to an original pleading. Next, in Miller II, which opinion can be found here, the Indiana Court of Appeals, in reviewing Betty Miller’s claim arising out of her husband’s death, found Zachary Miller’s mental health providers were not immune from liability under two statutory provisions for failing to warn or take precautions to protect others from a patient’s violent behavior.

In the subject of this blog, Miller v. Patel, et al. decided on June 29, 2023 (Miller III), the Court first examined the case background. Miller, who suffered from severe mental illness, killed his grandfather in January 2017 after receiving allegedly negligent care from his mental health providers. Miller pleaded guilty but mentally ill to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 12 executed. Miller filed a civil lawsuit against his providers, alleging that they failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care and caused him permanent injuries, pain, emotional distress, and loss of freedom from his incarceration. A medical review panel found that the providers were negligent, and their conduct was a factor of Miller’s damages. However, the trial court granted summary judgment for the providers, finding that Miller’s damages were not compensable under Indiana public policy and that he was estopped from relitigating his responsibility for the crime. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that 1) the providers failed to show there were no genuine issues of material fact and 2) collateral estoppel did not apply to Miller’s guilty plea.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s denial of a motion for summary judgment filed by the Indiana Department of Insurance and the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund (the Fund) in a negligent credentialing claim. In Indiana Dep’t of Ins. v. Doe, a doctor sexually molested a minor child during a physical exam. The child’s parents (the Does) filed a medical malpractice claim against the doctor and the hospital for which the doctor worked. In their lawsuit, the Does asserted the hospital was negligent in credentialing the doctor. The Does and the hospital thereafter entered into a settlement agreement, which was contingent on the Does obtaining access to excess damages from the Fund. After the Does filed a petition against the Fund for excess damages, the Fund moved for summary judgment, with the hospital as an intervening party. The Fund argued the Does’ negligent credentialing claim was not medical malpractice within the scope of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (the Act), and therefore, it had no liability to pay excess damages, thereby making the settlement between the Does and the hospital null and void. The trial court denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and the Fund appealed.

Under Indiana law, the Act applies to claims for malpractice against healthcare providers qualified under the Act. The Act provides a monetary cap on the liability of healthcare providers, and if a healthcare provider agrees to settle a claim under the Act, claimants may then pursue excess damages from the Fund. Over the years, there have been a variety of cases setting forth what is, and what is not, medical malpractice under the Act, as the Act does not cover all claims against healthcare providers. Whether a claimant can recover excess damages from the Fund depends on whether the Act applies. The Act applies to curative or salutary conduct of a healthcare provider while acting in a professional capacity. The Act does not apply to conduct unrelated to the promotion of a patient’s health or a healthcare provider’s exercise of professional expertise, skill, or judgment. Courts analyze (1) whether the alleged negligence involved the provision of medical services and (2) whether the provision of medical services was to a patient for the patient’s benefit.

Here, the Does sought to recover excess damages from the Fund based upon their negligent credentialing claim against the hospital. However, Indiana caselaw has found the Act inapplicable to claims of sexual misconduct by healthcare providers, and under prior precedent, claimants are required to prove underlying malpractice to succeed on a negligent credentialing claim. The Indiana Court of Appeals reaffirmed its prior position in holding “an underlying act of medical malpractice is a necessary predicate and condition precedent to a medical credentialing malpractice claim,” and concluded that, since the Does’ underlying claim against the doctor was not malpractice under the Act, the Does’ negligent credentialing claim also fell outside of the Act, thereby preventing the Does access to excess damages from the Fund.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently affirmed a trial court’s judgment dismissing a personal injury lawsuit based upon issue preclusion and Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act. In Davidson v. State, Kathryn Davidson (“Davidson”) sustained severe injuries and was rendered a quadriplegic when she was ejected from the passenger seat of a semi-truck that crashed into an overpass-bridge pier in a construction zone on I-69. Davidson’s boyfriend, Brandon Nicholson, fell asleep while driving the semi-truck for his employer, J Trucking, LLC. Davidson filed a lawsuit against J Trucking, LLC and obtained a $3.2 million judgment after a bench trial. Thereafter, Davidson filed a second lawsuit, for the same injuries and damages, against the State of Indiana and five other defendants (“the Defendants”) for their role in the construction of the section of I-69 where the truck crash occurred, including their alleged failure to appropriately place barriers in front of the bridge pier.

In the second lawsuit, the Defendants moved to have Davidson’s case dismissed based upon, among other things, the legal doctrine of issue preclusion, which prevents a party who has previously litigated an issue and lost from relitigating the same issue in a second lawsuit when that issue was necessarily decided in the prior lawsuit by a court of competent jurisdiction. In applying issue preclusion against a party, courts must consider whether the party had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the first lawsuit and whether it would be unfair under the circumstances for issue preclusion to be used against the party in the second lawsuit. Here, the trial court dismissed Davidson’s second lawsuit with prejudice, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed finding issue preclusion did not apply, and the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer.

Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court held Davidson’s claims in her second lawsuit were barred by issue preclusion based on its interpretation of Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act. Under the Comparative Fault Act, a trier of fact must consider the fault of all persons who caused or contributed to cause an injury or death and apportion 100% of the damages in the case between parties and nonparties. Nonparties are persons who caused or contributed to cause an alleged injury or death but who have not been joined in a lawsuit as defendants. A defendant may raise a nonparty defense to have fault attributed to a nonparty, thereby lessening any fault attributable to the defendant, and in turn, any judgment that must be paid. However, for fault to be attributed to a nonparty, the Comparative Fault Act requires the nonparty be named in the lawsuit.

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