In a somewhat surprising decision by the Indiana Supreme Court last month, the Court reversed two lower Courts’ rulings that a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice suit was not filed within the statute of limitations. In the case of Moryl v. Ransone, the Indiana Supreme Court accepted the Plaintiff’s argument that a medical malpractice suit shall be considered filed when the complainant delivers the complaint to a commercial courier service (i.e. UPS or FedEx), and not when the defendant receives the complaint. This appears to be a minor distinction, but in this case it meant everything to the Plaintiff’s case.
On April 20, 2007, the Plaintiff’s husband died while under the care of the Defendant doctors and hospital. The circumstances of the death were suspicious to the Plaintiff, and she pursued a medical malpractice claim against the Defendants. The statute of limitations for an Indiana medical malpractice claim is two years, meaning that a medical malpractice complaint must be filed no more than two years after the alleged malpractice occurred or else it must be dismissed. Here, the Plaintiff mailed the complaint to the Indiana Department of Insurance, using FedEx overnight, on April 19, 2009 – one day before the statute of limitations expired. The Defendant received the complaint on April 21, 2009, or one day after the statute had expired.
The Trial Court’s Decision
When the case was heard by the District Court, the Defendants argued that under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act (“the Act”), a complaint is considered filed only when it is sent by US Postal Service Registered or Certified mail. If a complaint is sent any other way, the Act states, it is to be considered filed upon receipt by the Defendant. Because the text of the Malpractice Act is clear that a complaint is only considered filed upon mailing by Certified or Registered mail, and the Defendants received the complaint one day after the statute of limitations expired, the District Court dismissed the complaint under the Act.
The First Appeal
The Plaintiff appealed the case to the Indiana Court of Appeals. She argued that the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act is outdated, and other more recent and analogous laws consider USPS Registered mail, USPS Certified Mail, and private commercial delivery services (i.e., FedEx) as the same when it comes to finding that a complaint is filed upon mailing. In their decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that the text of the Act is controlling, because the Act was made specifically for medical malpractice claims. Here, the complaint was received by the Indiana Department of Insurance, rather than the type of Defendants that the other laws cited by the Plaintiffs consider.
Appeal to the Supreme Court
After losing in the Court of Appeals, the Plaintiff filed to have the Indiana Supreme Court hear her case. The Court agreed that this area of Indiana law was unsettled, and heard argument on the case. The Plaintiff made a similar argument to that made at the Court of Appeals, focusing on the intention and purpose of the laws which were being discussed. The Supreme Court accepted the Plaintiff’s arguments and found that it is nearly certain that the Indiana legislature intended for USPS certified mail, USPS registered mail, and commercial couriers to all be viewed the same in the eyes of the law for purposes of determining a date of filing.
In their ruling, the Court put it most eloquently: “Our decision constitutes a refusal to elevate form over substance. We are unwilling to fortify the armory of those who attack the law as famous for its ability to elevate form over substance. We see no substantive difference between a proposed medical malpractice complaint mailed via FedEx Priority Overnight, tracking and return receipt requested, and a proposed complaint mailed via USPS registered and certified mail.”
The Plaintiff Will Get Her Day in Court
Because of this ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court, the Plaintiff’s case will be sent back down to the District Court and tried on the merits. Had the Plaintiff given up on her case earlier, she would not be able to recover anything as a result of her husband’s death. Because the plaintiff was persistent with her case, and represented by a skilled Indiana medical malpractice attorney, she will get her day in court. Although the result of this case was very good for this particular plaintiff, she will still have to wait over seven years to have her case heard, and the five years of prior litigation may have been very costly. It is always best to file a medical malpractice lawsuit as early as possible, and avoid the statute of limitations entirely.
Do You Have a Case for Medical Malpractice?
If you think you or a loved one may be the victim of medical malpractice, you should contact an experienced Indiana medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. The skilled litigators at Parr, Richey, Obremskey, Frandsen and Paterson have the experience and skill needed to help get what you deserve. Call us at 888-532-7766 for a free consultation today. Don’t wait till the last minute, we’ll get started right away and make sure that all of the deadlines and procedures are properly met. Also access us online.
Indiana Federal Court Decision Protects Plaintiffs Injured in Auto Accidents, Indiana Accident Attorneys, March 17, 2014.
Fraudulent Concealment Tolls Statute of Limitations in Indiana Wrongful Death Case, Indiana Accident Attorneys, March 10, 2014.