Indiana Court of Appeals Instructs Trial Court to Grant Patient’s Estate’s Motion to Compel Arbitration in Medical Malpractice Nursing Home Case

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.

On appeal in this case, the Estate argued that, even though Aperion was a qualified healthcare provider, King and Aperion had agreed in the Arbitration Agreement that any legal claim would be resolved exclusively by arbitration, and therefore, the Estate was not required to first present the claim to a medical review panel prior to having to arbitrate the dispute. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed. The Court noted Indiana recognizes a strong policy favoring enforcement of arbitration agreements, the parties’ Arbitration Agreement did not provide for completion of the medical review panel process as a condition precedent to arbitration, and the Medical Malpractice Act itself provides parties can agree to waive the requirement that a case be presented to a medical review panel before being pursued in court. The Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to grant the Estate’s motion to compel arbitration.

You can read the full opinion in Estate of King by Briggs v. Aperion Care here.

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