Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

When a hospital or medical provider deviates from a generally accepted standard of care and causes harm to a patient, they may be liable for the patient’s injuries through an Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit. All personal injury lawsuits require plaintiffs to present a significant amount of evidence to establish their claim to damages. In addition to the typical evidentiary burdens that a plaintiff has to meet, Indiana medical malpractice laws impose additional obstacles on injury victims. There are various forms of medical malpractice, and injury victims should seek the representation of an Indiana malpractice attorney when pursuing these lawsuits.

The most common types of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from diagnosis errors, surgical errors, treatment failures, birth injuries, prescription drug errors, and laboratory mistakes. Laboratory professionals are responsible for the proper collection, handling, interpretation, and reporting of their results. Laboratory testing and their accompanying results are a critical part of an individual’s medical treatment, as these reports may affect diagnosis and dictate treatment. Moreover, laboratory machines, products, or devices may also cause severe injury or death to a patient. Injuries can occur if the handler does not know how to use the equipment correctly or if the device is defective. Defective devices may include, drains, tubes, pumps, measuring instruments, centrifuges, and catheters. When a lab error occurs, the consequences can be life-altering, or even fatal.

For example, recently, a national news report detailed the tragic death of infants receiving treatment at a neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital. Late last summer, several infants began to show signs of illness, and three subsequently died of a bacterial infection. During an investigation, the hospital discovered that the infants died after exposure to infected donor milk. The hospital’s infection control unit determined that the laboratory equipment used to measure the donor milk contained the deadly bacteria. The bacteria generally only present a threat to fragile individuals, such as preterm immunocompromised babies. Following the deaths and discovery of the bacteria, the hospital began diverting the care of premature babies to other hospitals. So far, one of the families who lost a child has filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

The Indiana Medical Malpractice Act governs most lawsuits based on injuries that a person suffers because of the negligence of an Indiana hospital or medical provider. When an Indiana pharmacist, medical resident, nurse, doctor, or surgeon causes injuries because they deviated from a reasonable standard of care, they may face liability under the Act. To collect damages, a medical malpractice victim must also overcome any issues surrounding their own fault or contribution to their injuries.

Under Indiana, law, courts measure negligence by comparing the negligent actor’s conduct against that of someone acting under similar circumstances. Using this framework, a plaintiff must prove that the healthcare provider breached a reasonable standard of care. To meet this burden, plaintiffs must present testimony from a similarly situated healthcare provider. This provider must be able to address applicable standards of care and opine on whether the defendant departed from this standard.

Further, plaintiffs may need to address a defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff contributed to their injuries and damages. Generally, Indiana negligence lawsuits apply the modified comparative fault standard. Modified comparative fault means that each party’s fault will factor into the total amount of damages that the plaintiff can receive. Under Indiana law, a plaintiff that is more than 51% responsible for their injuries will not be eligible to recover for their damages. However, the state’s Comparative Fault Act does not apply to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Indiana wrongful death claims are meant to compensate the accident victim’s spouse and dependents after their wrongful death. So, what happens if the decedent’s spouse and dependents are no longer alive by the time the case goes to trial? The Indiana Supreme Court took up the issue in a recent case.

The Facts

According to the court’s written opinion, a husband filed a claim after his wife died from complications during surgery and throughout her subsequent dialysis treatments. The husband brought a negligence claim against his wife’s surgeon, the hospital, and the dialysis treatment center, seeking damages for her death under Indiana’s wrongful death statute. The plaintiff sought damages for two general categories: “final-expense damages” and “survivor damages.” Final-expense damages included the medical, funeral, and burial expenses, and survivor damages were claimed for the loss of consortium, including loss of income, loss of employment benefits, and loss of companionship. However, the husband died while the case was still being decided. He did not leave a will and there were no apparent heirs to his estate, so the estate reverted to the state of Indiana.

The defendants argued that because the husband died, there could be no award of survivor damages, because there was no evidence to support a loss of consortium claim. They claimed that because the husband did not have any heirs, any survivor damages would pass to the state, which contradicts the purpose of a compensatory damages award for wrongful death claims.

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Filing a successful Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit can be a complicated endeavor. Not only do these claims often require several expert witnesses to explain the relevant issues in the case to the jury, but there are also additional procedural requirements that a plaintiff must follow.

Under Indiana Code Article 18 Chapter 8, a person bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare professional must first submit their claim to a medical review panel and obtain the panel’s opinion. If a plaintiff fails to comply with this requirement, or any of the other requirements outlined in Chapter 8, the court will dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. Depending on the timing of the plaintiff’s case, this could preclude the plaintiff from recovering for their injuries.

A recent case arising in another jurisdiction illustrates that not all claims against healthcare providers will be considered “medical malpractice” cases. Typically, these are cases that are brought against medical professionals but do not implicate a professional duty of care. For example, a slip-and-fall accident in a doctor’s office may not be considered a medical malpractice claim.

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Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals all have a duty to provide a certain level of care to their patients. While not every adverse patient event will be a basis for a lawsuit, when someone is injured due to negligently provided medical care, they may be able to recover compensation for their injuries through an Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit.

These cases are unique in that they are subject to additional requirements over and above other Indiana personal injury lawsuits. For example, Indiana Code section 34-18-8-4 states that an Indiana medical malpractice plaintiff must first file a complaint with a medical review board prior to filing the lawsuit in a court of law.

Once the complaint is filed, a panel of four (consisting of one qualified attorney who practices in that area of the law and three qualified health care providers) will review the claim and determine whether it has merit. If the claim is determined to have merit, the plaintiff will be allowed to file a lawsuit, and the results of the claim will be admissible at trial. However, the results will not necessarily dictate the outcome of the case, since the defendant will also be able to present a defense if there is one.

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Earlier this month, the federal circuit court of appeals overseeing both the northern and southern districts of Indiana issued an opinion in a medical malpractice case illustrating the importance of expert testimony in Indiana medical malpractice lawsuits. The case was brought to the court by the plaintiff’s appeal, which claimed that the lower court had erred in finding in favor of the defense. However, the appellate court agreed that the testimony of the defendant’s expert witness was supported by the patient’s medical records and that the plaintiff’s expert witness was impeached as to his failure to consult relevant medical literature. As a result, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the wife of a man who died shortly after he was admitted into the care of a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. Initially, the plaintiff’s husband was at the hospital for routine lab work, but when the results came back abnormal, he was admitted. At the time, the plaintiff’s husband suffered from a number of medical conditions, including morbid obesity, respiratory acidosis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.

The plaintiff’s husband was not complaining of anything specific, but the plaintiff told hospital workers that she wanted someone with him at all times because he “was not acting like himself.” The hospital determined that the plaintiff’s husband was not in need of a personal sitter, which is normally only necessary in cases involving psychotic and delirious patients.

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One of the most contested aspects in many Indiana medical malpractice cases is the element of causation. Simply stated, in order to succeed in a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must not only show that the defendant medical provider was negligent but also show that their negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. While this may seem simple in concept, the reality is that causation in medical malpractice cases is very complex. A recent medical malpractice opinion issued by a federal court of appeals illustrates one plaintiff’s difficulty in establishing causation.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who died from liver cancer. The plaintiff’s husband suffered from numerous medical conditions, including cirrhosis, and was treated by the local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital.

In 2011, the plaintiff’s husband showed signs of elevated liver function and had a CT scan performed. The VA doctor interpreting the scan results noted that the patient’s cirrhosis was stable but failed to make any other observations or diagnosis.

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Medical malpractice cases can be brought under a number of different theories. For example, surgical errors and misdiagnoses are two common types of Indiana medical malpractice cases. Another theory of liability under the medical malpractice umbrella is called medical battery.

Medical battery is based on the idea that a doctor can only perform a procedure on a patient who consents to that procedure. In the eyes of the law, a surgeon who performs a procedure without a patient’s consent is no different from a person who attacks a victim with a knife against their will. Thus, for any medical procedure, doctors must obtain informed consent.

The term “informed consent” can be a tricky one and often requires more than the doctor asking the patient if they are aware of the risks and then proceeding with the procedure. In most situations, doctors must first educate the patient on what their current ailment is, how the surgery is meant to fix it, how it will be performed, and what the likelihood of complications will be. A recent case out of Oklahoma explains that the doctor should also tell the patient whether any non-doctor assistants will be helping the doctor.

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Earlier this month, one state appellate court issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case brought by a woman who suffered serious injuries after a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctors. The case presented the court with the opportunity to determine the validity of a medical release waiver that the plaintiff had signed prior to undergoing the surgery. Ultimately, the court concluded that the waiver was ambiguous and contained contradictory statements. Thus, the court decided that the lower court was improper to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim based on the waiver.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was required to have a spinal fusion surgery. Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff signed a release, stating:

As of January 1, 2003, [the defendants] will not carry any medical malpractice insurance. Being of sound mind and sound body, I hereby acknowledge this fact and agree not to [the defendants] for any reason. My reason for doing this is that I realize that [the defendants] will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.

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Last month, an appellate court in Maryland issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that required the court to determine if evidence of the alleged negligence of several non-parties should have been admitted at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the alleged negligence of the non-parties was properly admitted because it was required to give the defendant doctor a fair trial.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case were the surviving loved ones of a man who passed away from a stroke after being treated by the defendant doctor. The man’s original injuries stemmed from a racquetball accident. At the time of the accident, the man suffered from various health issues that put him at a higher risk for a stroke, such as moderate obesity and hypertension.

After his fall, the man was treated by a number of doctors, one of whom was the defendant in this case. After the defendant doctor treated the man, he was then treated by several other doctors prior to ultimately suffering from the stroke that claimed his life.

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