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Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Depending on the circumstances surrounding a fatality caused by another’s negligence, Indiana statutes may place limits on the monetary value of the human life taken when it comes to compensating the remaining family members for their loss.  Known as a “damage cap,” such limits may be triggered by the status of the negligent actor being a qualified healthcare provider or a governmental entity. Another damage cap depends on the dependency of those family members left behind, which is the topic of today’s blog.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled that the adult son of a decedent was not a dependent for purposes of Indiana’s General Wrongful Death Statute and that he could not pursue an alternative survival claim based upon the Defendants’ admissions of liability. In Franciscan ACO, Inc. v. Newman, Virginia Newman was being transported by an employee of Franciscan ACO, Inc. and/or Franciscan Alliance, Inc. (“Franciscan”). During the transport, Virginia and her wheelchair were not properly secured, and when the employee turned, Virginia and her wheelchair fell over. Virginia suffered injuries and subsequently died. Virginia’s son, Vaughn Newman, filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful death and asserting an alternative survival claim for his mother’s injuries.

Defendants filed an answer in which they admitted the factual allegations in Vaughn’s complaint as to negligence and that the negligence caused Virginia’s death. They thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Vaughn was not a dependent under Indiana’s General Wrongful Death Statute and was therefore limited to the $300,000 cap for loss of love and companionship under Indiana’s Adult Wrongful Death Statute. They also argued the evidence established that Defendants caused Virginia’s death, and therefore, Vaughn’s survival claim should be dismissed. After holding a hearing, the trial court denied the Defendants’ motion.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently held a nursing home, qualified under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, had relinquished its right to protections afforded by the Act to medical malpractice defendants by contracting for claims against it to be resolved exclusively by arbitration, such that the estate of a nursing home resident could compel arbitration in lieu of presenting the case before a medical review panel.

The Estate of Sandra King (“the Estate”) filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Aperion Care d/b/a Aperion Care Tolleston Park (“Aperion”) relating to nursing care provided to King while she was a resident at Aperion. As part of her admission to the nursing home, King signed Aperion’s Arbitration Agreement, which provided all claims against Aperion were to be resolved exclusively by arbitration. After filing a lawsuit and conducting discovery, and prior to tendering its medical review panel submission, the Estate moved to compel arbitration based upon the Arbitration Agreement. After a hearing, the trial court denied the Estate’s motion to compel, finding the case “not yet ripe for arbitration,” as the case had not yet been presented to a medical review panel.

Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, qualified healthcare providers (i.e., those who have filed proof of financial responsibility and paid the applicable surcharge, Ind. Code § 34-18-3-2), get numerous protections, including a requirement that plaintiffs first present their claims before a medical review panel prior to prosecuting them in court. Ind. Code § 34-18-8-4. Medical review panels are comprised of one attorney chairperson and three healthcare providers. Ind. Code § 34-18-10-3. Once the panel is formed, the parties tender medical review panel submissions consisting of evidence to be considered by the panel. Ind. Code § 34-18-10-17. The panel then issues an opinion on whether the defendants complied with the applicable standard of care and whether the conduct complained of was a factor in the resultant damages. Ind. Code § 34-18-10-22.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Anonymous Physician 1 v. White affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed by a fertility doctor and fertility clinic in a lawsuit against the fertility doctor for using his own sperm in artificially inseminating a patient in the early 1980s. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the patient and her son alleged breach of contract and medical malpractice.

The patient went to the fertility doctor for help becoming pregnant. The fertility doctor and the patient entered into a contract that provided that the doctor would artificially inseminate the patient with donor sperm from an anonymous medical school resident, and the doctor was supposed to use the donor sperm in no more than three successful artificial insemination procedures. As a result of the artificial insemination, the patient became pregnant and gave birth to a son in 1982. After learning in 2016 that the doctor had used his own sperm, the patient and her son filed a lawsuit.

The doctor and clinic filed a motion to dismiss the son’s claim arguing he had not established he was a third-party beneficiary to the contract with his mother, that he had failed to sufficiently state a claim for negligence because no duty was owed to him, and that he had failed to state a claim for compensable injuries. A motion to dismiss under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint as to whether some facts have been stated giving rise to a legally actionable injury. Courts accept alleged facts as true and view them and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Under Indiana’s notice pleading standard, a complaint only needs to contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing entitlement to relief. Allegations are sufficient if they put a reasonable person on notice as to why the plaintiff is suing. Motions to dismiss are disfavored as they undermine the policy of deciding cases on their merits.

In Community Health Network, Inc. v. McKenzie, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed several important health law issues, one of which was whether a claim of negligence arising out of a hospital employee’s accessing another’s private health information falls under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act. The Court of Appeals ruled that such mishandling of a patient’s confidential information “even by a treating physician—are not governed by the Medical Malpractice Act.”

The claimant, Heather McKenzie, was initially employed at Indiana Orthopedic Center (“IOC”), along with Katrina Gray. Katrina was the medical records coordinator and was Heather’s direct supervisor. Katrina introduced Heather to her stepson, Kevin, and the two married and had two children. Thereafter, Kevin and Heather divorced and Heather received full custody of the children. Heather later married Daniel McKenzie. The Gray family and the McKenzie family had a “family feud” according to the Court.

In 2012, Community acquired IOC through an asset purchase. Katrina was hired and trained by Community to be the medical records coordinator and was required to train on HIPPA. After training Katrina was provided access to Epic, an electronic medical records system. She was authorized to schedule appointments and release records of patients only within IOC and “strictly prohibited” from accessing any patient record without a business need or for personal reasons. After Community investigated an anonymous internal employee complaint received via Community’s anonymous hotline, it was determined that Katrina had accessed her own chart, as well as the confidential health records of multiple other patients, including the McKenzies. Katrina was placed on leave and then terminated. The McKenzies were later notified of the unauthorized access of their medical information and eventually learned that Katrina was the culprit.

Verdict-Article-1-300x189Barsumian Injury Law attorney Jonathan Armiger’s article examining recent Indiana medical malpractice cases was published in Volume 40, No 1 of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Verdict.  The article is republished below with permission from ITLA.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE VS. ORDINARY NEGLIGENCE

The Indiana Court of Appeals has recently issued four opinions concerning whether the claims at issue constituted medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. The distinction is important as such relates to the applicability of the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), which, among other things, caps damages, Ind. Code § 34-18-14-3, requires claims be presented to a medical review panel prior to prosecuting them in court, Ind. Code § 34-18-8-4, shortens the statute of limitations for minors, Ind. Code § 34-18-7-1(b), and, in conjunction with the Comparative Fault Act, retains contributory negligence for those providers who qualify thereunder, Ind. Code § 34-51-2-1(b)(1).

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment for a healthcare provider in a medical malpractice case which was based upon a motorist’s prior settlement with the Plaintiff and the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act’s cap on damages. In Batchelder v. Indiana Univ. Health Care Associates, Inc., the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a healthcare provider arising out of a radiologist’s failure to diagnose her late husband’s unstable cervical spine fracture which he suffered in a motor vehicle collision with another driver. After settling the motor vehicle case for $1.25 million, the Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the healthcare provider as a joint tortfeasor with joint and several liability for the death of her husband.

The healthcare provider filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the Plaintiff could not recover any more money because she had already received $1.25 million arising from her husband’s death, which was, at the time, the cap of damages set forth by the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The Plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that the $1.25 million-dollar setoff from her settlement with the motorist should be deducted from the total amount of damages, which she valued between six and ten million dollars, as opposed to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act’s cap on damages. Without any determination of the total amount of damages in the case, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the healthcare provider applying the $1.25 million settlement setoff to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act’s $1.25 million cap on damages.

The Indiana Court of Appeal reviewed prior decisions and Indiana’s “one satisfaction” principle in joint and several liability cases, which provides that courts should credit the funds received from a defendant against amounts recoverable from other co-defendants. In Palmer v. Comprehensive Neurologic Services, P.C., the Indiana Court of Appeals previously upheld a trial court’s judgment of $0 for a plaintiff after a jury awarded $375,000 to the plaintiff against a medical provider where the plaintiff had previously received more than $375,000 from non-healthcare providers. Similarly, in Indiana Dept. of Ins. v. Everhart, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a $1 million-dollar judgment against the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund where the trial court found the Plaintiff’s total damages were $3.15 million and where the Plaintiff had already received $2.15 million from a non-healthcare provider and the underlying medical providers.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued a decision on whether a non-physician healthcare provider could render an expert opinion as to medical causation in an Indiana medical malpractice case. In Riley v. St. Mary’s Med. Ctr. of Evansville, Inc., the patient filed a lawsuit against a hospital arising out of an IV contrast extravasation the patient suffered during a CT scan to rule out a pulmonary embolism. The patient alleged that the hospital’s radiologic technologist (RT) was negligent in injecting contrast dye into her right arm in preparation for the CT scan, and as a result, suffered compartment syndrome necessitating surgery and causing permanent injuries.

After the medical review panel formed in the parties’ case returned a unanimous opinion in favor of the hospital, the hospital moved for summary judgment. In response, the patient designated an affidavit from another radiologic technologist, Barry Southers, RT (Southers), who opined that the hospital RT did not comply with the applicable standard of care and that the hospital RT’s conduct was a factor in the resultant injury to the patient. In reply, the hospital argued that Southers, while he could give an opinion as to breach of the standard of care, could not give an expert opinion as to causation. The trial court agreed and entered summary judgment in favor of the hospital.

Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases in Indiana must prove that (1) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, (2) the defendant breached that duty, and (3) the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. A unanimous opinion of a medical review panel is ordinarily sufficient to support a party’s motion for summary judgment where the non-movant is then required to rebut the medical review panel opinion with expert medical testimony. The question before the Indiana Court of Appeals was whether Southers was sufficiently qualified to render an expert opinion on the element of causation to rebut the negative opinion of the medical review panel.

A few months ago we wrote about an Indiana Supreme Court decision granting a plaintiff a new trial as a result of a trial court’s refusal to strike a biased juror for cause which caused the plaintiff to lose a peremptory strike of another juror.

In Floyd v. Neal, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky Court of Appeals decision to give an alleged medical malpractice wrongful death victim’s spouse and her late husband’s estate a new trial under similar circumstances albeit with a twist of facts.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals had concluded that a juror was biased and should have been struck for cause and that the plaintiff should have thus been able to use a peremptory strike on another prospective juror who was ultimately empaneled.  In other words, a peremptory strike was utilized unnecessarily, depriving the plaintiff of utilizing it later.  The Supreme Court, over a lone dissent, concluded that the plaintiff failed to preserve the error, even though the error apparently would have been preserved under the language of then-existing precedent.  The dissent took issue with the Court’s retroactive application of a clarified striking procedure and the constitutionality of allowing a juror with an admitted bias to sit on the jury. Of significance to the Supreme Court’s decision was that in identifying the peremptory strikes she would have used, the plaintiff identified not one, but two jurors, when she only had one peremptory strike remaining.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Strickholm v. Anonymous Nurse Practitioner reversing a trial court’s grant of summary judgment based upon the statute of limitations. Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), a claim for medical malpractice may not be brought against a health care provider based upon professional services or health care that was provided or that should have been provided unless the claim is filed within two (2) year after the date of the alleged act, omission, or neglect. Health care is defined by the MMA as an act or treatment performed or furnished, or that should have been performed or furnished, by a healthcare provider for, to, or on behalf of a patient during the patient’s medical care, treatment, or confinement.

On October 29, 2015, the patient, Peter Strickholm, established primary care with Anonymous Nurse Practitioner (Anonymous NP). Anonymous NP thereafter saw Peter on December 1, 2015, at which time she prescribed a blood pressure medication to manage his high blood pressure and recommended that he return for a blood pressure check the following week. When Peter returned on December 8, 2015, a blood pressure check was performed by a licensed practical nurse (LPN). On December 11, 2015, the Anonymous NP electronically reviewed and approved the LPN’s report, but the Anonymous NP did not recommend any further testing or treatment despite the results. On December 15, 2015, Peter went to the hospital and was diagnosed with low sodium. He then suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and hypoxic event causing a permanent brain injury.

Peter, and his parents, as his guardians, filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint on December 4, 2017. Anonymous NP filed a motion for preliminary determination of law and motion for summary judgment on February 1, 2018 claiming that the complaint was barred by the two (2) year statute of limitations because the last day Anonymous NP provided health care to Peter was on December 1, 2015 with the complaint having been filed more than two (2) years after that date. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Anonymous NP holding that the continuing-wrong doctrine (which provides that the statute of limitations can be extended when an entire course of conduct of a continuous nature combines to produce an injury) did not apply to Anonymous NP’s single act of prescribing the medication on December 1, 2015, Anonymous NP did not provide health care on December 8, 2015 because she did not see Peter on that date, and Anonymous NP’s review and approval of the LPN’s report on December 11, 2015, did not constitute the provision of health care to a patient. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision.

Goshen Health Hospital and Emergency Room has recently alerted patients undergoing surgical procedures between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2019 that they may have been exposed to infectious diseases such as the hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to their failure to fully complete a multistep sterilization process for certain surgical instruments. According to articles in the Elkhart Truth and The Goshen News, it is possible that around 1200 patients may have been affected by one of Goshen Health’s seven surgical instrument sterilization technicians failing to complete a step in their sterilization process. The situation has gained national attention.

Goshen Health is currently offering free testing to potentially affected patients, and has, according to reports, put additional policies and safety measures in place to make sure that it does not happen again.  Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the technician’s error, injuries arising out of a failure to complete a sterilization process step could constitute ordinary and/or professional negligence and could give rise to personal injury and/or medical malpractice claims for physical and emotional injuries by the affected patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered a Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities. These guidelines discuss appropriate and recommended sterilization cycle verification (verification of sterilizers with biological and chemical indicators prior to routine use), physical facilities (including areas designed for decontamination, packaging, and sterilization and storage), cleaning (cleaning and decontamination after use to prevent residual debris), packaging (in accordance with guidelines set forth by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and other organizations), loading (allowing for sterilant circulation with proper placement of trays and items), storage (including proper wrapping and handling), and monitoring (routine checking of mechanical, chemical and biological indicators).

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