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Southern Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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The Indiana Supreme Court recently held in Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Co. v. Johnson that product misuse, like the defenses of incurred risk and product alteration, operates as a complete defense to bar recovery in product liability cases. While misuse is normally a question of fact for the jury, under this opinion, misuse can be established as a matter of law, for which summary judgment can be granted, when the undisputed facts show the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable manner in direct contravention of the product’s warnings and instructions, and that such misuse caused the harm and could not have been reasonably expected by the seller.

The Plaintiff was seriously injured in this case when he used a grinder designed by the Defendant in an attempt to cut around a truck’s headlight opening to substitute larger headlights. The Defendant’s warnings and instructions directed users to wear safety glasses, to avoid attaching a cut-off disc without a safety guard in place, and to avoid using a cut-off disc with an RPM rating below the minimum of 25,000 RPM. The evidence established that the Plaintiff did not follow these warnings and instructions and the Indiana Supreme Court found that, despite any product defect, had the Plaintiff used a guard and safety glasses, he would not have been injured.

An injury claim arising out of the use of a product falls under the Indiana Products Liability Act (IPLA).  Under the IPLA, a product-liability plaintiff must show that a product was in an unreasonably dangerous defective condition and that the product caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiffs can establish that a product was defective because of a manufacturing flaw, a defective design, or a failure to warn of dangers while using the product. Strict liability claims under the IPLA are limited to manufacturing defect claims, while claims based upon design defects or inadequate warnings or instructions are determined under negligence principles. While comparative fault principles still apply under the IPLA, the IPLA provides three non-exclusive defenses—incurred risk, product alteration, and product misuse— which based upon this opinion, all now operate as complete defenses, if proven, despite any product defects.

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Legislators in Indiana and Kentucky have enacted laws mandating medical review panels in cases where individuals allege they have been harmed by a healthcare provider’s negligence, commonly known as medical malpractice.  Under legal challenge, Indiana found the legislation constitutional, whereas Kentucky did not.

Long ago, prior to enacting this legislation, Indiana’s and Kentucky’s founders provided as part of their Constitutions that their courts should be “open” and justice administered freely and “without delay.”

Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution provides:

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What is required of plaintiffs to protect their right to challenge the applicability of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act when there exists a question as to whether a claim arises from medical malpractice or ordinary negligence? The Indiana Court of Appeals answered this question in Cmty. Hosps. of Indiana, Inc. v. Aspen Ins. UK Ltd., a case in which two insurance companies paid damages to persons injured in a trucking collision and then sought to recover those damages from a medical provider who had cleared the at-fault truck driver to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

The insurance companies contemporaneously filed a proposed complaint for damages with the Indiana Department of Insurance (IDOI) and an anonymous state-court complaint for damages against Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc. (Community). Community employed a nurse practitioner who performed a physical examination of the negligent truck driver prior to the collision pursuant to a contract between Community and the truck driver’s company that required qualified Community employees to conduct physical examinations based on Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements. The insurance companies alleged that Community was negligent in not notifying the truck driver’s company of a medical condition that would have precluded the truck driver’s ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, thus preventing the trucking accident.

Medical malpractice claims are subject to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (IMMA), which, among other things, caps damages, maintains the doctrine of contributory negligence, and requires that claims be submitted to medical review panels prior to being presented to a jury. However, the IMMA does not apply to all cases involving healthcare providers. If a healthcare provider’s negligence is unrelated to the promotion of a patient’s health or the exercise of professional expertise, skill or judgment, then it does not constitute medical negligence, but rather ordinary negligence, falling outside the scope of the IMMA. Indiana courts have noted that a case falls under ordinary negligence when the factual issues can be resolved by a jury without regard to the applicable standard of care. Alternatively, a case sounds in medical negligence when there is a causal connection between the conduct complained of and the nature of the patient-healthcare provider relationship.

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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently resolved an insurance dispute in an automobile accident case concerning uninsured motorist coverage. In Progressive Se. Ins. Co. v. Smith, a passenger, Smith, was injured in his own vehicle that was involved in a single-vehicle collision.

Smith had given the driver, Clayton, permission to drive the vehicle when the two had left a company event. Smith’s liability insurance covered his vehicle damage and he received medical payments under the medical payment portion of his policy. Smith then brought suit against Clayton which resulted in Clayton’s insurer, Allstate, tendering its policy limits to Smith to settle.

Smith then asserted an uninsured motorist (UM) claim with Progressive. Progressive, in turn, filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment against Smith, requesting a determination under the terms of the policy that Smith was not covered under the UM coverage portion of the policy. Smith then filed a motion for summary judgment seeking coverage and damages under the policy. The trial court granted Smith’s motion and Progressive appealed.

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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in St. Mary’s Ohio Valley Heart Care, LLC v. Smith concerning claims of medical malpractice against a cardiothoracic surgeon, a pathologist, and their respective medical groups arising out of a lung lobectomy performed for suspected, but not confirmed, lung cancer.

During the wedge resection portion of the procedure, the pathologist interpreted the intraoperative frozen section pathology slides as cancerous or suggestive of cancer, which was communicated to the cardiothoracic surgeon, who then proceeded to perform the lobectomy. The permanent section slides, however, were later interpreted as being benign, and the patient filed a lawsuit for damages.

A medical review panel was convened to review the case pursuant to the requirements of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act and it returned a unanimous expert opinion in favor of the Defendants. After the patient filed an amended complaint for medical malpractice in state court, the Defendants filed motions for summary judgment based upon the opinion of the medical review panel that the evidence did not support the conclusion that the Defendants failed to meet the applicable standard of care.

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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Biedron v. Anonymous Physician 1 addressing the applicable statute of limitations in medical malpractice lawsuits in Indiana.

Biedron involved three related medical malpractice claims, which were consolidated for the purposes of the appeal. Proposed complaints for medical malpractice were filed by the plaintiffs with the Indiana Department of Insurance more than two (2) years after the alleged malpractice occurred in each of the cases. The plaintiffs in each of the cases argued that the 2-year occurrence-based statute of limitations, as set forth in the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, should be tolled under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment. With differing trial court orders on the defendant healthcare providers’ motions for summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding in favor of the Indiana healthcare providers.

Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, a medical malpractice claim, whether in contract or tort, may not be brought against a healthcare provider based upon professional services or healthcare that was provided, or that should have been provided, unless the claim is filed within two (2) yeas after the date of the alleged act, omission, or neglect, except that a minor less than six (6) years of age has until the minor’s eighth birthday to file. Ind. Code § 34-18-7-1.

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A recent memorandum decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals in J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. v. Guardianship of Zak affirmed an Indiana trial court’s order awarding the guardianship of a passenger injured in a semi-truck collision $4,810,000.00 in prejudgment interest.

Ten months after an Indiana jury found in favor of the passenger and against the driver of the semi tractor-trailer and the trucking company he was working for at the time of the trucking accident, the passenger requested prejudgment interest on the $32,500,000.00 jury award. The driver of the semi tractor-trailer and the trucking company appealed the trial court’s order of pre-judgement interest arguing that the guardianship of the injured passenger had failed to comply with Indiana’s Tort Prejudgment Interest Statute (TPIS), as set forth in Indiana Code section 34-51-4-6, and that the request for prejudgment interest was untimely. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.

Prejudgment interest is allowed under Indiana law as an additional element of damages to achieve full compensation for the prevailing party at trial. The truck driver and trucking company argued that the guardianship of the injured passenger did not comply with the TPIS because it did not make an offer of settlement within one year of filing the lawsuit and the settlement offer that was eventually made did not allow the truck driver and trucking company sixty (60) days to pay the amount of the settlement offer. In affirming the trial court on these issues, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted that the statute is not meant to serve as a trap for the wary but is meant to put a party on notice of a claim and encourage settlement. The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the trial court acted within its discretion in determining that the guardianship’s settlement offer satisfied the statute because the guardianship had established good cause for the delay in tendering its settlement offer due to critical documents being withheld by the truck driver and trucking company during discovery, and because the settlement offer included time-limiting language.

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Our lawyers are currently investigating the FDA’s recall of Valsartan in an effort to determine whether a sufficient medico-legal basis will exist to file Valsartan lawsuits for those impacted.  At this point, it is difficult to ascertain whether those who have taken Valsartan products contaminated with NDMA may have been adversely affected by taking the contaminated drug.  The viability of such claims will depend in large part on how long the medication was taken, from whom the medication was sourced, who manufactured the medication, what dose of the medication was taken, and the amount of contaminant contained in the medication.  A Valsartan lawsuit attorney can investigate the facts necessary to form a basis for possible Valsartan litigation.  First and foremost, though, is the need for those taking a contaminated Valsartan medication to consult their physician to determine if they have been taking a contaminated Valsartan product to determine whether a different medication may be indicated.  According to the FDA, Valsartan users should not stop taking the medication until completing a physician consultation.

The biggest concern for Valsartan users appears to be an elevated risk of cancer, although other concerns are possible organ damage or tumors.  Nonetheless, and importantly, at this time, the FDA is warning those taking Valsartan do not stop taking the medication unless and until you have consulted with your prescribing physician.  It is also important to note that not all Valsartan medication was contaminated with NDMA. The FDA has published a list of the recalled and non-recalled medications, which can be found here.  Valsartan lawsuit lawyers will continue to monitor the information being developed by the FDA and companies participating in Valsartan recalls.

According to the FDA, taking the highest Valsartan does (320 mg) from the recalled batches daily for the full four years may increase the risk of cancer to the point one additional case of cancer occurs in the lifetimes of a hypothetical group of 8000 such Valsartan takers.  This may seem like a relatively insignificant risk compared to the risks of developing cancer published by the American Cancer Society.  However, this is additional risk and one additional case of this terrible disease is one too many and may very well warrant a Valsartan law firm to file a product liability or failure to warn lawsuit supported by admissible scientific and epidemiological evidence.

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In Holland v. Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Company, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided a dispute between an Indiana lawyer and an automobile insurer concerning the reimbursement of medical payments coverage provided by the automobile insurer to the injured client of the lawyer in a personal injury lawsuit. After the lawyer’s client was injured in a vehicle collision and sustained medical bills as a result of injuries suffered in the collision, the client’s automobile insurer paid $5,000.00 towards the client’s medical bills. The automobile insurer put the attorney on notice of its subrogation claim, which entitled it to partial reimbursement of the amount it paid out of its medical payments coverage.

Under Indiana law, the amount of an automobile insurer’s subrogation claim for medical expenses paid on behalf of an injured party is diminished in the same proportion as a personal injury claimant’s recovery is diminished by comparative fault, or by reason of the uncollectability of the full value of the claim for personal injuries or death resulting from limited liability insurance. Ind. Code § 34-51-2-19. The amount of the automobile insurer’s subrogation claim is also reduced by a pro-rata share of the claimant’s attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. Id.

In this case, the personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party was settled in the client’s favor. The client’s attorney and the automobile insurer were unable to reach an agreement as to the reimbursement amount due the automobile insurer from the personal injury settlement. More than two (2) years after the Indiana attorney and the automobile insurer reached an impasse and communication ceased between them concerning the medical payments subrogation lien, the automobile insurer filed a lawsuit in state court in Indiana against the Indiana attorney. While the trial court initially found in favor of the automobile insurer, the Indiana attorney appealed the decision, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, finding in favor of the Indiana attorney based upon a two (2) year statute of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty.

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You have exhausted every other option with your aging parent. Keep them in their own home and stop by regularly to help with meds, food, upkeep of the home, shopping. For a while that may work and you feel good about helping your parent and giving back when they have given so much to you during your lifetime.

As time progresses, your parents may find themselves unable to care for themselves on a daily basis. It is difficult for them to accomplish tasks and you may come to the point where you cannot trust their judgment. What if they leave the stove on? Or, wander outside and not know where they live. Worse yet, they get behind the wheel of their car when they are unable to drive responsibly.

We do not know what the future holds. It is impossible to promise your parent things like “we will never put you in a nursing home”, when we have no idea what situations will arise as they age with regard to their health and physical capabilities. It is hard not to feel guilty when you have run out of in-home care options. At this point, a tough decision may be in order. You have done the best you can and tried to honor their request. Because of modern medical advances, people live longer now than they did in the past. There comes a point in time when both their mental and physical capabilities may have deteriorated so much they cannot take care of themselves.

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