Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Earlier last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a man who was injured by an on-duty paramedic on his way to the scene of an accident. The case, Aldana v. Stillwagon, presented the issue of whether a case involving a regular traffic accident caused by an on-duty paramedic should be considered a “medical malpractice” case for the purpose of determining which procedural rules apply. Ultimately, the court determined that since the accident was “garden variety” and didn’t involve the paramedic’s professional duties, the case should not be considered a medical malpractice case.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant, Stillwagon, was an on-duty paramedic who was called to respond to a traffic accident. He was not in a marked ambulance but was instead driving a special pick-up truck that was outfitted with lights and sirens. However, at the time, neither was activated.

On his way to the accident scene, Stillwagon ran a red light and struck Aldana’s vehicle, causing him serious injuries. Aldana filed a personal injury lawsuit against Stillwagon but did so 17 months after the accident. In response to the complaint filed against him, Stillwagon asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the appropriate statute of limitations was one year under the state’s medical malpractice act.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Idaho issued a written opinion affirming a jury’s verdict in favor of a man who lost his wife to a serious infection after undergoing a procedure at the defendant’s cosmetic clinic. In the case, Ballard v. Kerr, the court dismissed the defendant’s approximately 20 claims of error and affirmed the jury’s verdict below. However, the appellate court did find that the award of nearly $150,000 in attorneys’ fees was not appropriate, and it reversed the lower court on that issue alone.

A Woman Undergoes an Elective Cosmetic Surgery and Suffers a Serious Infection

Ms. Ballard underwent an elective liposuction procedure whereby the doctor was to implant the removed fat from her stomach into her buttocks. During the procedure, as is common, the doctor used both disposable and reusable medical equipment. The procedure seemed to go as planned, and Ms. Ballard returned home later that day.

However, within a few days, Ms. Ballard called the doctor’s office to move her follow-up visit forward due to immense pain she was experiencing in her buttocks. The doctor inspected the area but did not see any signs of infection. Out of an abundance of caution, he prescribed her antibiotics.

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Personal injury and medical malpractice cases are subject to a maximum amount of time that a plaintiff can wait before bringing the lawsuit. This amount of time is outlined in what is called a statute of limitations. There are several types of statutes of limitations, and determining which statute of limitations applies in any given case is not always straightforward. Similarly, it can also be difficult to determine when a statute of limitations begins to run.

In a recent medical malpractice case in front of a state appellate court, the court determined that under the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine, the plaintiff was excused for not filing the case within the normal statute of limitations. In the case, Cefaratti v. Aranow, the court determined that, although the plaintiff’s case was technically filed after the statute of limitations, under the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine, the statute of limitations didn’t actually begin to run until after the plaintiff stopped being treated by the allegedly negligent doctor.

Indiana Statutes of Limitations

In Indiana, the general rule is that a medical malpractice plaintiff has two years to file their lawsuit against the defendants. This two-year timeframe usually begins on the date when the alleged negligence occurred. Thus, for example, if a plaintiff is claiming medical negligence based on a surgical error, the clock would start on the date of the surgery.

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Medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits go through several phases before the case is submitted to a jury at trial. Two of the most important pre-trial phases are the discovery phase and the summary judgment stage. The discovery phase is where the parties exchange relevant information to the case that the opposing party may not have or know to exist. Certain discovery, even of unfavorable information, is mandatory.

The summary judgment stage is where either party can ask the court to enter judgment on a case before the case is submitted to a jury. In order for a judge to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate, she looks at all the evidence and determines if either party is legally entitled to judgment in their favor. This is only the case when there are no “issues of material fact,” meaning that there are no legal issues that can be resolved in favor of the non-moving party that could result in that party’s victory.

Defendant’s Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Case Reversed on Appeal

In a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, the court corrected a lower court’s error in granting summary judgment to a defendant when it was not legally appropriate. In the case, Siner v. Kindred Hospital Limited Partnership, the plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a women who died a short time after being treated at the defendant hospital. The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that the poor treatment at the defendant’s hospital resulted in the death of their loved one.

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Indiana’s state legislature has proposed an increase in the state’s cap on medical malpractice payments. The proposed bill would increase the state’s limits on how much compensation malpractice victims can receive. The new bill would increase the limit to $1.65 million. According to one new source, if passed, the increase would be the first in 17 years. In addition, the bill would increase the limit on what a health care provider must pay from $250,000 to $450,000. If an award exceeds that, the remainder of the money is paid by the state. The proposed bill would also limit increases to every four years based on the national inflation rate.

Indiana’s Senate President Pro Tem David Long said that he believes the cap has helped limit the state’s medical costs but also that it needs to increase to meet growing costs. Also, the current limit is being challenged in court, and Long commented that he believes that not allowing for limit increases could mean that the current state law would be deemed unconstitutional by a state court. Some other states’ caps have also been found unconstitutional.

Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

Medical malpractice damages caps limit the amount of money a plaintiff can receive from a medical malpractice lawsuit. Generally, the caps place a limit only on non-economic damages. Economic damages include the cost of medical bills and lost wages, whereas non-economic damages include pain and suffering, mental distress, and loss of companionship. However, some states have laws on all types of damages, including both non-economic and economic damages. Indiana’s current and proposed law includes all types of damages.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Texas decided the case of Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hospital System, in which the court determined that the slip-and-fall accident that injured the plaintiff, although occurring at a hospital, was not subject to the expert requirement of medical malpractice lawsuits.

The Facts of the Case

In the case, Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hospital System, the plaintiff was a woman who slipped and fell outside her loved one’s room in the hospital. The written opinion of the court indicates that the plaintiff was headed from the hospital pharmacy to her relative’s room when she slipped on a puddle of water that had accumulated outside a bathroom door. The woman filed a slip-and-fall lawsuit against the hospital.

In a pre-trial motion, the hospital requested that the court dismiss the case due to the plaintiff’s failure to submit an expert report, as is statutorily mandated for all medical malpractice lawsuits. The plaintiff contended that the lawsuit was not one of medical malpractice, but of ordinary negligence, for which an expert is not required under state law.

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In a split decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court has affirmed the dismissal of Ferguson v. University of Mississippi Medical Center, a wrongful death by medical malpractice lawsuit that was filed against medical providers who allegedly caused the death of the plaintiff’s brother shortly after he was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment in September 2008.  In this most recent ruling, which the court ruled 6-2 to affirm the dismissal of the case, the sole remaining plaintiff and brother of the decedent was denied recovery for giving false testimony in a deposition that was taken before he was added as a plaintiff to the case.  Because of this ruling, nobody will be able to recover any damages based on the alleged negligence of the defendants.

Before His Death, the Man Waited for Hours without Receiving Treatment

The case was initially filed after the death of the plaintiff’s brother, who experienced a medical emergency in September 2008 and was taken by ambulance to the defendant hospital, unable to feel his legs.  According to the ruling, the decedent waited for hours at the defendant hospital but received no treatment despite his serious condition.  The man was eventually taken to a different hospital, where he immediately received treatment, but he died two days later of kidney failure, which could have allegedly been prevented had the man had received timely treatment at the first hospital.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Mississippi dismissed a case brought by the husband of a woman who died while in the care of the defendant because the plaintiff re-filed the case after the applicable statute of limitations had expired. In the case, Thornhill v. Ingram, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s failure to diagnose and treat his wife led to her early death. Accordingly, he filed suit against several of the treating medical professionals, as well as the facility where his wife was cared for.

However, although the case had been filed shortly after the passing of his wife, the plaintiff did not make appreciable efforts to bring the case to trial. Eight years later, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of prosecution.

After considering both sides, the trial court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the case without prejudice. This meant that the plaintiff would be able to re-file the case if and when he chose to do so.

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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.The 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.
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If you hear that a court “dismisses” a complaint, or finds in favor of the plaintiff, it may have been dismissed as a result of a summary judgment motion filed by one of the parties. A summary judgment motion is a motion made by either the plaintiff or the defendant asking the court to decided the case on the evidence submitted and skip the trial. It is appropriate when there are no legal issues for the judge or jury to decide, and the case can be decided on its facts.In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed the summary judgment standard that has been used in Indiana for several years. In the case, Rambo v. Justice, the plaintiff, Rambo, was involved in an auto accident and was taken to the hospital and treated by Dr. Justice. Dr. Justice treated Rambo, but failed to take spine x-rays. Rambo then went to physical therapy which ended up making her condition worse. After two weeks, it was discovered that she had spinal fractures as a result of the accident.

The defendant doctor filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court
granted the motion and Rambo appealed to the court of appeals. On appeal, the court took the opportunity to affirm the standard for summary judgment, and when it is appropriate. Specifically, the court noted that the party seeking summary judgment “bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
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