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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently found in favor of a restaurant and winery in an Indiana slip-and-fall case. In Cooper’s Hawk Indianapolis, LLC v. Ray, the Plaintiff, Katherine Ray, while at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant (“Cooper’s Hawk”), went to use the restroom and slipped and fell on her way out of the restroom door. Ray filed a complaint against Cooper’s Hawk alleging she slipped and fell on an accumulation of water and was injured as a result of her fall. Cooper’s Hawk filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied, arguing that Cooper’s Hawk did not have actual or constructive notice of the defective condition that allegedly caused Ray to fall and that any breach of any duty was not the proximate cause of Ray’s injuries.

Under Indiana premises liability law, property owners must maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for business invitees. A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to its invitees by a condition on land if it (a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees; (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger. An inviter must exercise reasonable care to discover defects or dangerous conditions on the premises, and will be charged with knowledge of, and held liable for injuries that result from, any dangerous conditions that could have been discovered in the exercise of reasonable care. However, inviters are not insurers of their invitees’ safety and must be shown to have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous conditions on their premises before liability will attach. Negligence cannot be inferred from the mere fact of a fall and constructive knowledge can only be found if it is shown that a condition had existed for such a length of time that under the circumstances it would have been discovered if the inviter or its agents or employees had used ordinary care.

In this case, it was raining outside around the time of Ray’s fall. Ray testified she did not observe anything, any water, or any wet spots on her way to the restroom. She did not observe any slippery substance or wet spot outside the women’s restroom in the hallway after she exited the restroom. She did not feel any liquid substance or anything like that on her body after she fell. She did not see any wetness on her clothing. While Ray’s husband testified that after EMS arrived he noticed that one of the EMS personnel had a damp knee, Ray’s jeans were damp, and there were a few very small puddles or mist on the floor, he could not testify as to what the liquid was, where it came from, and how long it would have been there, and he did not recall seeing it when he first got to the area of the fall. An employee of Cooper’s Hawk submitted an affidavit stating she was working on the day of the fall, did not know how Ray fell, neither she nor Cooper’s Hawk were notified of the presence and had no knowledge of any type of hazard or liquid substance, employees would inspect the restrooms and hallways every twenty to thirty minutes, and when she inspected the area of the fall, she found no sign of a hazard, water, or other liquid on the floor.

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 affirmed a trial court’s decision refusing to give a negligence jury instruction but giving jury instructions on inherent risks of equine activities and incurred risk in a horse-related injury case. In Burdick v. Romano, the Plaintiff, Kathleen Burdick, and the Defendant, Julie Romano, were riding horses in a horse arena. According to Burdick, Romano’s horse, which was known to be aggressive and kick other horses, kicked Burdick after being left unattended by Romano. Romano claimed that Burdick simply fell off her horse. Burdick suffered a broken shoulder and brain injury and filed a lawsuit against Romano for her injuries.

A jury trial was held, and the jury found in favor of Romano, finding Burdick to be 65% at fault and Romano 35% at fault. Under the modified comparative fault approach outlined in Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, a plaintiff is barred from recovering damages for personal injuries when the plaintiff’s fault is greater than the fault of all other persons causing the injury. Burdick appealed the verdict arguing the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to give a negligence jury instruction and in giving jury instructions on inherent risks of equine activities and incurred risk.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision finding the parties were engaged in a sporting activity and therefore a negligence instruction was not warranted. The Court recognized previous cases categorizing as sporting activities non-competitive golf, riding a mountain bike alone on a bike trail, and practicing karate kicks during a karate class. Here, after examining the statutory definition of “equine activity,” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41, which the Court found did not preclude sporting activities, the Court examined the parties’ activities, including riding in an arena (as opposed to pasture or other country terrain) and performing tricks and training related to the sport of horse-back riding, and found that the parties were engaged in a sporting activity. Under Indiana law, when a sports participant injures someone while engaging in conduct ordinary in the sport, and without intent or recklessness, the participant does not, as a matter of law, breach any duty of care. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s refusal to give a negligence instruction because the evidence did not support giving a negligence instruction and because giving a negligence instruction would have been confusing and misleading to the jury.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky recently issued a decision in Sneed v. University of Louisville Hospital affirming a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a hospital and two physicians in a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim arising out of a fourth-degree laceration the Plaintiff suffered during delivery on August 1, 2013, which caused a rectovaginal fistula (the most severe category of vaginal tear, often extending into the rectum), requiring surgery.

One year after the Plaintiff’s delivery and vaginal laceration, on August 1, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the hospital, and on October 30, 2014, amended the complaint to add the two physicians who delivered her baby and initially repaired the laceration. The physicians moved for summary judgment based upon Kentucky’s statute of limitations, which the trial court granted. After the Plaintiff tendered expert disclosures, which did not allege a breach of the standard of care as to the hospital, the hospital moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding the hospital was not vicariously liable for the individual physicians, as they were not employees or agents of the hospital. The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed.

The Plaintiff argued on appeal that Kentucky’s statute of limitations did not bar her action against the physicians under the continuous treatment doctrine and under the fraudulent concealment doctrine due to concealment of her records. Under Kentucky law, medical malpractice claims against physicians must be commenced within one year after the cause of action accrues, which occurs at the time the injury is first discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered. However, the statute of limitations can be tolled under the continuous treatment doctrine and when a party absconds, conceals himself, or by other indirect means obstructs prosecution of the case.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s decision allowing a slip-and-fall claimant’s case to move forward against a governmental entity despite non-compliance with the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA). In City of Columbus v. Londeree, the Plaintiff, Debra Londeree, slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot of the Foundation for Youth of Bartholomew County (FFY). The City of Columbus (City) provided snow removal services for FFY. After the fall, Debra filed an incident report with FFY. She then spoke with the City’s risk office and was told that the City had not received her incident report. A few weeks later, a City employee called Debra and told her the insurance company would contact her. However, the City’s insurance carrier, Tokio Marine Insurance, never contacted her. FFY’s insurance carrier, Cincinnati Insurance, did contact her, but the claims representative was not working for the City or its insurer and did not tell Debra, who was relying upon the claims representative, that she was working for the City or its insurer.

After Cincinnati Insurance denied the claim on behalf of FFY, Debra and her husband Dan filed a lawsuit against FFY and the City. Neither Debra nor Dan served a notice of tort claim on the City within 180 days from the fall as required by the ITCA. Under the ITCA, a notice of claims against a political subdivision, which includes cities, must be filed with the governing body of the political subdivision and the Indiana political subdivision risk management commission within one hundred eighty (180) days after the loss. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-8. A claimant must describe “in a short and plain statement the facts on which the claim is based,” including the circumstances which brought about the loss, the extent of the loss, the time and place the loss occurred, the names of all persons involved if known, the amount of the damages sought, and the residence of the person making the claim at the time of the loss and at the time of filing the notice. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-10.

The City filed a motion for summary judgment against Debra and Dan due to their non-compliance with the notice requirements of the ITCA. The trial court denied the City’s motion as to Debra finding there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the City should be estopped from raising the ITCA notice defense due to Debra’s understanding of the relationship between the City and FFY and whether her reliance on the representations of FFY and the City were reasonable. As to Dan’s derivative claim, the trial court granted the City’s motion based upon precedent providing that a spouse claiming loss of consortium must file a separate notice of tort claim.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s dismissal of an Indiana automobile accident case in which the injured motorist was alleged not to have complied with the notice provisions of Indiana’s Claims Against Public Schools Act (“CAPSA”). In Smith v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., Benjamin Smith (“Smith”) was injured when his vehicle collided with a school bus owned and operated by the Franklin Township School Corporation (“the School”). A few months after the accident, Smith provided notice of his tort claim to the School in accordance with the Indiana Tort Claims Act (“ITCA”). A year and a half after the accident, Indiana’s legislature enacted CAPSA which provides notice requirements in all civil actions or administrative proceedings against public schools. After Smith filed a lawsuit against the School, and after the applicable statute of limitations had run, the trial court granted the School’s motion to dismiss Smith’s complaint without prejudice on the basis that he had failed to comply with CAPSA.

The ITCA governs tort claims against governmental entities or public employees. Under the ITCA, a claim against the state of Indiana is barred unless notice of the claim is filed with the attorney general or the state agency involved within two hundred seventy (270) days after the loss occurs. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-6. Claims against political subdivisions, for example cities or counties, must be filed with the governing body of the political subdivision and the Indiana political subdivision risk management commission within one hundred eighty (180) days after the loss. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-8. To comply with the notice provision of the ITCA, a claimant must describe “in a short and plain statement the facts on which the claim is based,” including the circumstances which brought about the loss, the extent of the loss, the time and place the loss occurred, the names of all persons involved if known, the amount of the damages sought, and the residence of the person making the claim at the time of the loss and at the time of filing the notice.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-10.

CAPSA was enacted on July 1, 2018 and provides that claimants may not initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding against a public school “unless the individual or entity submits a written notice to the public school and the governing body… that notifies the public school and the governing body… of the alleged violation of law and indicates a proposed remedy.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3.5-4. The proposed remedy must provide “a specific request for relief” and “[a]llow the public school to offer [the claimant] the relief requested,” to which the public school must respond within fifteen (15) days after the notice is submitted, before the claimant can initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding. Ind. Code §§ 34-13-3.5-5, 34-13-3.5-6. If a claimant does not provide the required notice under CAPSA, the action “shall [be] dismiss[ed]… without prejudice.”

87481771_xl-300x200On Halloween otherwise fiscally responsible and sensible adults spend oodles of money and countless hours to costume their children and let them visit the homes of neighbors and strangers alike, knowing a hardball negotiation will ensue with the youngster proclaiming, “Trick or Treat.”

Most homeowners will relent, tossing a treat into the child’s bucket or bag, with the toughest response to the demand being the question, “And who are you supposed to be?” Some reluctant children may stand, stone-faced waiting for candy before being prompted by their parents with, “What do you say?” Homeowners who dare reject the offer or fail to arm themselves with sufficient authority, er candy, face the possibility of a trick or, more likely, a sad, dejected face.

I have yet to hear anyone say to a child, “You are not going to do anything if I don’t give you candy. Now go away.” I am sure, however, that someone somewhere has directly called a ghost, ghoul or goblin’s bluff.

Indiana has a rather complex and parsimonious medical malpractice statute which sometimes leads to claimants seeking creative solutions to some of the obstacles they face in pursuing justice for claims with merit.  Garau Germano, P.C. v. Robertson, 2019 WL 3886461, involved just such a creative approach.  In Garau Germano, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a complaint for declaratory judgment and mandate filed on behalf of a law firm and one of its clients against the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund (PCF) and related parties.  The law firm and client sought to prevent the defendants from requiring a medical malpractice claimant’s periodic payments agreement with a qualified health care provider to pay out the provider’s maximum liability under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) before the claimant could access the PCF. For context, the MMA provides that healthcare providers can discharge their liability to claimants by making an immediate payment of their maximum liability under the MMA, or by making an immediate payment and paying the cost of a periodic payments agreement. Ind. Code § 34-18-14-4. The plaintiffs in this case argued that the MMA does not require that a healthcare provider’s immediate payment plus the money paid out under a periodic payments agreement equal the provider’s maximum liability before a claimant can access the PCF.

The MMA provides that healthcare providers are not liable for an amount in excess of $250,000.00 for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 1999 and before July 1, 2017, $400,000.00 for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 2017 and before July 1, 2019, and $500,000.00 for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 2019. Ind. Code § 34-18-14-3. However, if a healthcare provider’s immediate payment of money plus its expenditure for a periodic payments agreement exceeds $187,000.00 for an act of act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 1999 and before July 1, 2017 or seventy-five percent (75%) of its maximum liability for an act of malpractice after June 30, 2017, the healthcare provider will be considered to have paid its maximum liability. Ind. Code §§ 34-18-14-4, 34-18-15-3. If a healthcare provider has agreed to settle its liability by payment of its maximum liability, either by an immediate payment or by making an immediate payment and paying for a periodic payments agreement to pay out money in the future, a claimant can thereafter file a petition to seek excess damages from the PCF. Ind. Code § 34-18-15-3.

The question raised by the plaintiffs was whether the present payment of money by a healthcare provider plus the future payments under a periodic payments agreement must equal a healthcare provider’s maximum liability. For an act of medical malpractice that occurred after June 30, 1999 and before July 1, 2017, could a claimant access the PCF if a healthcare provider makes an immediate payment of $150,000.00 and pays $37,001.00 for a periodic payments agreement that only pays out $50,000.00 in the future (a total of $200,000.00 in payments), as opposed to paying out $100,00.00 (a total of $250,000.00 in payments)? The answer to this question is important as it relates to elderly claimants, for instance, as any future payments under a periodic payments agreement may not pay out during their lifetime.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in a car accident case in which the question before the Court was whether a party may use evidence of an expert witness’s professional disciplinary history to challenge the expert’s credibility. In Tunstall v. Manning, 124 N.E.3d 1193, 1195 (Ind. 2019), the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a defendant driver that had rear-ended the plaintiff at a stop sign, causing injuries to the plaintiff. One of the plaintiff’s treating physicians diagnosed the plaintiff with a 28% whole body impairment.

Leading up to the jury trial, counsel for the defendant inquired about the plaintiff’s physician’s past professional discipline and the reasons underlying the physician’s past discipline. While the physician admitted his medical license had previously been on probation, he refused to answer questions about the reasons underlying his past discipline. When the defendant filed a motion in court to compel the plaintiff’s physician to answer questions about his past discipline, the trial court denied the motion, reasoning that the physician’s professional disciplinary history was not relevant because his medical license was in good standing. At trial, the defendant was unable to use the physician’s licensure probation and the reasons underlying the physician’s past discipline to impeach the physician’s testimony, which was the sole medical testimony offered by the plaintiff, based upon the trial court excluding any evidence of the plaintiff’s physician’s past licensure probation and the reasons for his past professional discipline.

After an Indiana jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by disallowing evidence of the plaintiff’s physician’s licensure probation and the reasons underlying his professional discipline. In personal injury cases in which there are competing expert opinions as to the seriousness of a person’s injuries, expert testimony can be particularly important in affecting the amount of any jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Once the foundation for an expert’s opinions has been established, the accuracy, consistency, and credibility of the expert’s opinions can be challenged by the parties. The question in this case was whether the plaintiff’s physician’s expert opinions could be attacked by evidence of his professional disciplinary history.

We previously wrote about a split between two panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals on what constitutes preferred venue under Indiana Trial Rule 75 in medical malpractice cases in Indiana. Indiana Trial Rule 75 provides for preferred venue in “the county where… the principal office of a defendant organization is located…,” and the Indiana Supreme Court has previously interpreted the term “principal office” as “the place in Indiana where one serves the corporate registered agent.” Ind. R. Trial P. 75(A)(4); Am. Family Ins. Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 857 N.E.2d 971, 975 (Ind. 2006) (American Family).

Plaintiffs in both medical malpractice cases argued preferred venue existed in Marion County, Indiana because one or more of the defendants had registered agents with office addresses in Marion County. However, the healthcare Defendants in these cases argued that preferred venue did not lie in Marion County because a new Indiana statute provides that “[t]he address of [an entity’s registered] agent does not determine venue in an action or a proceeding involving the entity.” Ind. Code § 23-0.5-4-12.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Morrison v. Vasquez, 107 N.E.3d 1103 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) held that Marion County, Indiana was not a preferred venue based upon the address of the defendant’s registered agent, whereas the Court in Indiana Univ. Health S. Indiana Physicians, Inc. v. Noel, 114 N.E.3d 479 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) held that preferred venue lied in Marion County.

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