Verdict for Doctor in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Affirmed by Indiana Court of Appeals: Ruble v. Thompson

After a jury returned a verdict in favor of the doctor in a medical malpractice case, an estate executor appealed on two questions of abuse of discretion: limitations on the scope of questions during the defendant’s deposition, and refusal of jury instructions tendered by the plaintiff. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s verdict in Ruble v. Thompson, finding that the court did not abuse its discretion on any of the points raised on appeal.

Larry Ruble filed suit against Dr. Lori Thompson as an individual and on behalf of the estate of his wife, Natasha Ruble. According to the Court of Appeals’ opinion, Dr. Thompson first saw Natasha during her first day of practice after completing her residency in September 1998. Natasha was fifteen years old at the time and sought treatment for abdominal pain. Dr. Thompson reportedly saw Natasha in about twenty appointments over the following forty-six months. A physician’s assistant working for Dr. Thompson requested a CT scan in July 2002, which revealed that Natasha had advanced liver cancer. The scan showed an eighteen-centimeter cancerous lesion, although CT scans and other diagnostic tools can detect lesions as small as one centimeter. Trial experts testified that Natasha had about a five percent chance of survival by the time she was diagnosed, and that her chances would have been as high as fifty percent had diagnosis occurred a year earlier.

Natasha died on April 30, 2004, having married Larry Ruble on March 15, 2003. Larry filed a proposed malpractice complaint against Dr. Thompson with the Indiana Department of Insurance and a state court lawsuit in July 2004. He alleged that Dr. Thompson negligently failed to follow accepted standards of care in her treatment of Natasha, resulting in her death.

The state court lawsuit remained on hold while the state medical review panel (MRP) conducted its investigation. Dr. Thompson submitted to a deposition by Natasha’s estate in 2008, with questions directly relevant to the MRP’s case. The MRP announced a unanimous finding in January 2010 that Dr. Thompson failed to follow the relevant standard of care
In preparation for a jury trial in the court case, the estate requested a second deposition of Dr. Thompson. The court granted the motion, but restricted the questions to a set provided by the estate, based on its discussions with the doctor’s counsel. During the deposition, the attorney for the estate asked questions not included on the court’s list. Dr. Thompson refused to answer, and the court denied a motion to compel.

The estate tendered two jury instructions that the court refused to submit. One addressed the defendant’s alleged failure to maintain medical records, and possible negative inferences to be drawn from such failure. The other involved the “increased risk of harm” standard for people with less than a fifty percent chance of recovery. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict, ruling that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. It held that the trial court was within its rather wide discretion to decide discovery issues when it restricted the scope of the doctor’s second deposition, especially since the list of questions was based on a document prepared by the plaintiff. The court also held that the trial court’s decision on the jury instructions was within its discretion, and that the instructions as submitted to the jury were correct statements of law.

The attorneys at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse represent the interests of Indiana medical malpractice victims and their families, helping them obtain compensation for their damages. Contact us today online or at (888) 532-7766 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.

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