“Medical Malpractice” and “Medical Negligence” Distinction without Difference in Indiana

In finding in favor of several healthcare providers in a medical malpractice case in Indiana, the Indiana Court of Appeals in Speaks v. Vishnuvardhan Rao reviewed numerous concepts applicable to medical malpractice claims in Indiana.

Medical malpractice claimants in Indiana must prove that a healthcare provider owed the patient a duty, the healthcare provider breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused injury to the patient. Healthcare providers are not obligated to provide perfect care, but they must exercise the degree of skill and care ordinarily possessed and exercised by a reasonably skillful and careful healthcare provider under the same or similar circumstances.

The patient in this case filed a lawsuit against several healthcare providers claiming her healthcare providers committed malpractice by administering the wrong medication, failing to correctly complete a DVT risk form, and failing to properly monitor and flush her IV.

Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), before a patient can pursue a claim against qualified healthcare providers in state court, the patient must file a proposed complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance and receive an opinion from a medical review panel. However, as explained by the Court in this case, not all claims against medical providers fall under the MMA. A claim against a medical provider sounding in ordinary negligence, as opposed to medical negligence, falls outside the scope and requirements of the MMA. While the patient in this case attempted to couch her claims as ones of ordinary negligence, the Indiana Court of Appeals ultimately disagreed and held that her claims sounded in medical malpractice.

The medical review panel formed to review the patient’s claims in this case unanimously found that the evidence did not support a conclusion that the defendants failed to meet the applicable standard of care. After the plaintiff filed her complaint in court, the defendants moved for summary judgment based upon the opinion of the medical review panel.

In order to move forward with her claims in state court, the plaintiff was required to present expert testimony to refute the opinion of the medical review panel or show that her claims fell under the “common knowledge” exception. Interestingly, however, the trial court granted summary judgment as to the issue of “medical malpractice,” but denied summary judgment as to the issue of “medical negligence.”

In reversing the trial court’s denial of summary judgment as to the issue of “medical negligence,” the Court of Appeals noted that under the “common knowledge” exception, a plaintiff is not required to provide expert testimony to refute a negative opinion of a medical review panel in cases where the deviation from the standard of care is a matter commonly known to laypersons. The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff’s claims did not fall under this exception.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ultimately found in favor of the defendant healthcare providers because the plaintiff failed to provide expert testimony to refute the opinion of the medical review panel which found no malpractice on behalf of the healthcare providers.

Seeking to alleviate any confusion by a distinction drawn by the trial court, the Indiana Court of Appeals specifically noted that Indiana law does not recognize a distinction between “medical malpractice” and “medical negligence.” These are one and the same under Indiana law. The Court held that the Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the issues of medical malpractice and ordinary negligence.

The Court of Appeals decision can be found here.

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