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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently extended the Indiana Supreme Court’s Sword apparent agency holding to a non-hospital medical provider in Arrendale v. Am. Imaging & MRI, LLC. At issue in Sword and Arrendale was whether medical facilities could be held liable for the negligence of non-employee medical providers contracted to perform services for patients at the facilities.

The Indiana Supreme Court in Sword v. NKC Hosps., Inc., 714 N.E.2d 142 (Ind. 1999) adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 429 (1965) dealing with apparent agency in the hospital setting, which states that “[o]ne who employs an independent contractor to perform services for another which are accepted in the reasonable belief that the services are being rendered by the employer or by his servants, is subject to liability for physical harm caused by the negligence of the contractor in supplying such services, to the same extent as though the employer were supplying them himself or by his servants.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 429 (1965). Under Sword, a judge or jury must consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding a hospital’s manifestations and a patient’s reliance on such manifestations, including the reasonableness of a patient’s belief that a hospital or its employees were rendering the care provided. “A hospital will be deemed to have held itself out as the provider of care unless it gives notice to the patient that it is not the provider of care and that the care is provided by a physician who is an independent contractor and not subject to the control and supervision of the hospital.” Sword, 714 N.E.2d at 152. Hospitals can generally avoid liability by giving meaningful notice to patients, acknowledged at the time of admission. If hospitals do not give meaningful notice, if the patient has no special knowledge of a hospital’s relationship with its independent contractor physicians, and if there is no reason the patient should have known of the relationship, then reliance is presumed, and a hospital can be held liable for the negligence of its independent contractor physicians.

In Arrendale, the Plaintiff, Harold Arrendale (“Arrendale”), filed a medical negligence lawsuit against Marion Open MRI and radiologist Dr. Alexander Boutselis and other healthcare providers arising out of their failure to diagnose and treat an arteriovenous fistula of his spine. In his lawsuit, Arrendale alleged Marion Open MRI was vicariously liable for Dr. Boutselis’ negligence because Dr. Boutselis was “an employee and/or agent” of Marion Open MRI. Marion Open MRI moved for summary judgment arguing that it could not be held liable for Dr. Boutselis because he was not an employee of Marion Open MRI, but rather an independent contractor. Marion Open MRI argued that the holding in Sword should be limited to hospitals only and not applied to non-hospital medical facilities. The trial court, while indicating it tended to agree with Arrendale’s position, granted Marion Open MRI’s motion reasoning that Indiana’s appellate courts should resolve the issue.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reviewed whether under Indiana law the mother of a disabled child who was sexually abused by a school instructional assistant could bring a claim for the emotional distress she experienced as a result of her child’s sexual abuse. In K.G. by Next Friend Ruch v. Smith, Melody Ruch (“Ruch”) filed a lawsuit individually and on behalf of her daughter, K.G., arising out of sexual abuse of K.G. by Morgan Smith (“Smith”), an instructional assistant at New Augusta North Public Academy. New Augusta North Public Academy and the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township (the “School Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment on the individual claims brought by Ruch, including her emotional distress claim. After the trial court granted the School Defendants’ motion, Ruch appealed.

Indiana law allows for the recovery of damages for mental distress or emotional trauma under the traditional impact rule, the modified impact rule, and the bystander rule. Under the traditional impact rule, a plaintiff can recover if the plaintiff can prove (1) an impact on the plaintiff, (2) which causes physical injury to the plaintiff, and (3) which physical injury, in turn, causes the emotional distress. Under the modified impact rule, a plaintiff can recover if the plaintiff suffers a direct impact by another’s negligence, and by reason of that direct involvement suffers an emotional trauma which is serious in nature and of a kind and extent normally expected to occur in a reasonable person, without regard to whether the emotional distress arises out of or accompanies any physical injury to the plaintiff. Under the bystander rule, a plaintiff can recover if he or she actually witnessed or came on the scene soon after the death or severe injury of a loved one, with a relationship to the plaintiff analogous to a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild or sibling, caused by a defendant’s wrongful conduct, even if he or she was not directly impacted.

In this case, Ruch conceded she could not recover emotional distress damages under the traditional impact rule, the modified impact rule, or the bystander rule, as she was not touched by Smith and did not witness the sexual abuse. However, Ruch argued that Indiana should adopt another rule providing for recovery in cases in which the wrongful conduct would never be witnessed, such as sexual abuse, which occurs in secret. Ruch argued Indiana should allow for recovery when “(1) the genuineness of a claim is beyond question, (2) the facts present a unique and rare occurrence, and (3) the tort would never happen with a witness present.” Unfortunately, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Ruch’s invitation to expand the parameters of recoveries for emotional distress damages. The Court also held the Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution did not require recognition of such claims if not otherwise recognized by law.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s order on a motion for preliminary determination filed by a dentist in a dental malpractice case directing a patient to redact portions of her submission to a medical review panel formed to review the case. In White v. Nichols, Millie White (“White”) filed a dental malpractice case against John Lee Nichols, D.D.S. and John L. Nichols, D.D.S., P.C. (“Dr. Nichols”) as a result of injuries stemming from the placement of a dental bridge. Prior to filing the lawsuit, White notified the Indiana Dental Association of her complaints, and in response, the Indiana Dental Association provided White and Dr. Nichols a “resolution letter” setting forth a panel of dentists’ findings and recommendations. White’s submission to the medical review panel included the text of the resolution letter. Dr. Nichols filed a motion for preliminary determination asking the trial court to order White to redact the contents of the resolution letter from her submission arguing the letter was privileged and inadmissible. The trial court ordered White to redact the contents of the resolution letter and White appealed.

Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), when bringing a medical malpractice claim against a qualified provider patients must file a proposed complaint before the Indiana Department of Insurance and present the proposed complaint to a medical review panel and receive an opinion from the panel before prosecuting their case in court. During the medical review panel process, the jurisdiction of a trial court is limited. The MMA provides that a trial court has jurisdiction to “(1) preliminary determine an affirmative defense or issue of law or fact that may be preliminarily determined under the Indiana Rules of Procedure; or (2) compel discovery in accordance with the Indiana Rules of Procedure.” Ind. Code § 34-18-11-1.

White argued on appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order her to redact the resolution letter from her submission. Examining the limited scope of jurisdiction afforded trial courts under the MMA, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and held the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction in ordering White to redact the resolution letter from her submission. The Court found Dr. Nichols’ request did not concern a discovery issue, as both White and Dr. Nichols already had the resolution letter. The Court found that although privilege in some cases could be considered an affirmative defense, in this case, the privilege was not Dr. Nichols’ privilege but rather a third party’s privilege and therefore was not Dr. Nichols’ affirmative defense as to White’s claim against him. And lastly, the Court found Dr. Nichols’ motion did not request the trial court to preliminarily determine any issues of law or fact that may be preliminarily determined under Indiana Trial Rule 12(d).

Can a plaintiff’s medical bills be introduced as evidence by a defendant when the plaintiff is not seeking reimbursement for the medical bills as an item of damages? Yes, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals’ recent opinion in Gladstone v. W. Bend Mut. Ins. Co.

Daniel Gladstone (“Gladstone”) filed a lawsuit against Christina Carli (“Carli”) and his own insurance company, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company (“West Bend”), seeking damages for injuries he sustained, including a Colles fracture, in an automobile accident with Carli. Carli paid her automobile liability policy limits of $50,000.00 and was dismissed from the case. Gladstone sought damages from West Bend under his underinsured insurance coverage, which had a policy limit of $250,000.00. Gladstone’s medical bills were $14,000.00 but had been reduced to just under $2,000.00. The trial court allowed West Bend to introduce evidence of Gladstone’s reduced medical bills at trial, over Gladstone’s objection and despite the fact that Gladstone was not seeking medical expenses in the case, and the jury returned a verdict of $0.00 for Gladstone.

Gladstone appealed the trial court’s decision admitting his medical bills into evidence. Under Indiana law, a trial court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion resulting in prejudicial error, which is very deferential to trial courts. A party seeking reversal of a trial court’s evidentiary ruling must show the trial court’s decision was clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances, or that the trial court misinterpreted the law.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently opined on a certified question from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana that a Wal-Mart store manager could not be held liable for negligence for a trip-and-fall incident that occurred in the store on account of alleged failures to properly hire, train, and supervise Wal-Mart’s employees, as well as alleged failures to implement proper safety policies and procedures. In Branscomb v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., the Court considered the certified question when Wal-Mart and the store manager sought to remove the case from state court to federal court under federal diversity jurisdiction upon the basis that the store manager, Clark, an Indiana citizen, was fraudulently joined to the lawsuit, was not a proper party to the case, and, therefore, his citizenship should be ignored, leaving only Wal-Mart, a non-Indiana citizen, as a defendant. After Wal-Mart removed the case to federal court on diversity grounds, Plaintiffs sought to remand the matter back to state court, alleging questions of fact existed as to the store manager’s role in the negligence giving rise to the Plaintiffs’ injuries. The federal court noted there was no clear precedent on the issue and, therefore, certified the question to the Indiana Supreme Court.

In analyzing the question, Indiana’s Supreme Court noted that although Indiana recognizes the tort of negligent hiring, training, and supervision, the tort is not applicable if the tortfeasor employee is acting in the course and scope of employment. Branscomb had suffered injuries when he tripped over a pallet in the Wal-Mart garden center, leading to his fall. Looking at the allegations of the case, the court observed that the facts made no suggestion that the individual who placed a pallet on the floor in Wal-Mart’s garden center had been acting outside the scope of their employment and the Plaintiffs had made no such allegation. Consequently, under these particular allegations, the court found the Plaintiffs could only possibly hold Wal-Mart liable for the personal injuries sustained for which they were seeking recovery in their lawsuit.

As for the other allegations—that the store manager failed to implement proper safety policies and procedures to prevent the trip-and-fall event—the store manager submitted an affidavit stating that managers in his position do not have any discretion to unilaterally determine safety policies and procedures for the store, which discretion is, instead, given by “managers from higher up the Wal-Mart corporate ladder.” The court then turned to Indiana premise liability law, which provides only a possessor, controller, or person entitled to “immediate occupation” of the land has a duty to business invitees, like Branscomb, to prevent foreseeable harm from dangers on the land that were known or should have been known by the person. Because the Wal-Mart store manager accused of negligence did not possess the land, was not in control of the land when the fall occurred (it was his day off), and there were others who were entitled to occupy the land with intent to control it while the manager was off duty, the manager did not owe Branscomb a duty at the time of his fall under Indiana law.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a cemetery in an Indiana premise liability case. In Lowrey v. SCI Funeral Servs., Inc., Donald Lowrey and Barbara Lowrey were visiting their daughter’s interment site at the Elm Ridge Funeral Home & Memorial Park in Muncie, Indiana. As the Lowreys were walking on a sidewalk around a mausoleum in an attempt to return to the cemetery’s parking lot, Donald attempted to step across the grassy corner of two perpendicular sidewalks stepping from one sidewalk to the other sidewalk. However, when Donald stepped his foot did not make it completely onto the intersecting sidewalk, and as a result, his ankle rolled and he fell to the ground, striking his wife Barbara, who also fell. Donald and Barbara were both injured as a result of their falls and they sued the cemetery.

In their personal injury lawsuit, the Lowreys alleged the cemetery was negligent in maintaining its sidewalks due to ground/soil erosion at the corner of the two intersecting sidewalks. In support of their claims, the Lowreys presented a report from a professional engineer who determined there was a two-to-three-inch drop-off from the sidewalk to the ground at the corner of the sidewalks, the erosion of the ground at the corner of the sidewalks was due to the direction of drainage, and the cemetery’s failure to keep the ground flush with the sidewalks caused Donald’s fall. The cemetery filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was not negligent as a matter of law. After holding a hearing, the trial court granted the cemetery’s motion, and the Lowreys appealed.

Indiana has adopted Section 343 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts in premise liability cases, which provides that a property owner is liable for injuries to persons invited onto their property caused by a condition on their property if the owner (1) knew of, or should have discovered, the condition and that it involved an unreasonable danger, (2) should have expected persons invited onto the property would not realize the danger or protect themselves against it, and (3) the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care to protect such persons against the danger. However, under Section 343A of the Restatement, if a danger is known or obvious to an invitee, a property owner will not be liable unless the property owner should have anticipated the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Importantly, property owners are not insurers of their invitees’ safety, and the fact that a fall occurred is not sufficient in and of itself to prove negligence.

Non-signatories to nursing home contracts with arbitration clauses that seek to compel arbitration based upon equitable estoppel must satisfy Indiana’s established elements of equitable estoppel, the Indiana Supreme Court recently held in Doe v. Carmel Operator, LLC. As part of the admission of 77-year-old Jane Doe II (“Jane”) to Carmel Senior Living (“CSL”), an assisted living facility in Carmel, Indiana, her guardian, Jane Doe I (“Guardian”), executed a residency agreement with CSL that contained an arbitration clause requiring claims against it be arbitrated. After Jane was sexually abused by a CSL employee, Guardian filed a lawsuit against CSL, CLS’s management company, the employee, and Certiphi Screening (“Certiphi”), a company hired by CSL to conduct background checks of CSL employees. Guardian alleged CSL and Certiphi were negligent in failing to discover the employee’s prior felony convictions for a sex crime and murder.

Indiana has a strong public policy in favor of arbitration agreements. Such agreements, however, can be invalidated with generally applicable contract defenses, such as unconscionability. Even though parties may agree to have the Federal Arbitration Act apply to an agreement, state contract law governs the scope of the agreement, including who is bound by it. Typically, only contracting parties or those in privity with contracting parties can enforce arbitration agreements. However, if the parties want to allow non-signatories to enforce such agreements, the parties can state their intent in the agreement, thereby making the non-signatory a third-party beneficiary. Non-signatories can also enforce arbitration agreements under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

Here, CSL and Certiphi both moved to compel arbitration of the claims arising out of the resident’s alleged nursing home negligence, which Guardian opposed, arguing the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and, as to Certiphi, could not be enforced by Certiphi because Certiphi was not a party to the agreement. The trial court granted the motions to compel filed by CSL and Certiphi, and Guardian appealed. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the agreement was not unconscionable, and, as to Certiphi, Guardian was equitably estopped from asserting Certiphi could not enforce the arbitration agreement because Guardian was alleging substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct by both CSL and Certiphi. In so holding, the Indiana Court of Appeals relied upon its prior split-panel decision in German American Financial Advisors & Trust Co. v. Reed, 969 N.E.2d 621 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012) in which the Court adopted an alternative theory of equitable estoppel for arbitration agreements allowing non-signatories to enforce arbitration agreements if they could show either (1) reliance by a signatory on the agreement in asserting a claim against a non-signatory, or (2) allegations of substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct by both a signatory and non-signatory to the agreement.

Governmental entities in Indiana have a duty to exercise reasonable care to keep roadways and sidewalks reasonably safe for travel. However, governmental entities also enjoy immunity under certain circumstances. In two recent cases dealing with governmental immunity for losses caused by temporary conditions of roadways resulting from weather, the Indiana Court of Appeals has questioned and raised concerns with the Indiana Supreme Court’s analytical framework set forth in the 2002 decision of Catt v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Knox Cty., 779 N.E. 2d 1 (Ind. 2002).

The plaintiff in Catt was injured when his vehicle slid and crashed into a ditch in Knox County caused by a washed-out culvert following a rainstorm the night before. The culvert had washed out many times prior to Catt’s car accident and had been repaired. The plaintiff alleged Knox County had negligently inspected, designed or maintained the roadway. However, the Indiana Supreme Court held Knox County, despite any negligence, was immune from liability under section 34-13-3-3(3) of the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which provides “[a] governmental entity… is not liable if a loss results from… [t]he temporary condition of a public thoroughfare… that results from weather.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-3(3). The Court framed the question as whether the washed-out culvert was due to weather and whether Knox County had the opportunity to repair the washed-out culvert and failed to do so (i.e., whether it was temporary versus permanent), regardless of any prior negligent inspection, design or maintenance or the frequency with which the culvert may have washed out on prior occasions. Since the washed-out culvert was caused by weather, Knox County had not received notice that it had washed out on this occasion prior to the collision, and Knox County was busy repairing other washed-out culverts and had previously repaired this one, the Court found the washed-out culvert was caused by weather and was a temporary condition.

In subsequent cases based on Catt, the Indiana Supreme Court has further explained that governmental immunity for temporary conditions resulting from weather applies during the “window of reasonable response” to the road condition. That window lasts until the condition stabilizes. That is, if the condition continues to worsen or is still evolving, the condition has not stabilized and is therefore deemed temporary, and the government is immune.

Barsumian-Armiger-Personal-Injury-Medical-Malpractice-Indiana-Super-Lawyers-1-300x157

Super Lawyers rates Indiana attorneys on a yearly basis in more than 70 different practice areas, including personal injury and medical malpractice.  Following its completion of a peer review process, together with a patented evaluation process, the organization determines the lawyers in Indiana it will include on its Super Lawyers and Rising Stars list and announces those named online and in its Super Lawyers Magazine.  Super Lawyers rates attorneys nationwide among their peers for their respective states and areas of practice.

This year marks Barsumian’s fourth consecutive selection as a Super Lawyer in the field of personal injury.  Super Lawyers recognizes no more than 5 percent of the attorneys in Indiana.  Barsumian was previously selected as a Rising Star on four occasions.  Armiger, recognized for the area of medical malpractice, has now been selected to the Rising Star list on five occasions.  The Rising Stars designation recognizes attorneys 40 years old or younger and represents only 2.5 percent of the attorneys in Indiana.

Barsumian and Armiger are proud of this recognition and look forward to continuing to serve their clients in the Indianapolis and Evansville area in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

Jacqueline McGuire was a resident of Henderson County Healthcare Corporation’s Redbanks Skilled Nursing Facility in Henderson Kentucky.  After McGuire suffered bedsores and multiple injuries while at Redbanks, McGuire was transferred to another nursing home facility where she ultimately died.  McGuire’s brother, as administrator of her estate, filed a nursing home negligence lawsuit with various claims against Redbanks arising out of the alleged neglect.

During the prosecution of the lawsuit, Redbanks refused to respond to discovery requests seeking documents Redbanks claimed were protected by the Federal Quality Assurance Privilege (FQAP) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1396r(b)(1)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 1395i-3(b)(1)(B).  The FQAP is a subsection of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) passed in 1987.  To ensure quality care of nursing home residents, the FQAP requires skilled nursing facilities and nursing facilities to establish a quality assessment and assurance committee.  The FQAP protects the records of the committee from disclosure.

At times relevant to McGuire’s care, Redbanks had a Quality Assurance Performance Improvement (QAPI) committee, which then contracted with an independent contractor, Wells Health Systems (“Wells”), to consult and evaluate and provide guidance to Redbanks on the facility’s quality of care.  Nurse consultants employed by Wells performed site visits monthly wherein they examined residents’ medical charts, observed Redbanks staff perform their duties, and reviewed various statistical data.  These chart audits, compliance rounds, and statistics reviews were then compiled in reports provided to Redbanks QAPI.  The nurse consultants were neither Redbanks’ employees, nor members of the QAPI.

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