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Ind. SC says woman complied with med-mal regulations

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 2, 2010


INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a woman who left a hospital on crutches, after her request for a wheelchair was denied, and subsequently fell attempting to exit the lobby.

In Aug. 2004, Suzanne Eads' leg was placed in a cast at Community Hospital and left in crutches. Eads said she was not provided a wheelchair, as she had requested, causing her to fall.

Almost two years after she fell trying to leave the hospital's lobby, Eads filed a premises liability negligence complaint in Lake Superior Court against the hospital.

The hospital moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, arguing the complaint alleged medical malpractice and no proposed complaint had been filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance, as required by the Medical Malpractice Act.

Then, in April 2007, the Superior Court dismissed the case for failure to comply with the MMA.

However, about two weeks before the Superior Court dismissed the complaint Eads submitted a proposed complaint to the insurance department based on the same circumstances alleged in the Superior Court complaint.

According to an opinion filed by the Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday, Eads said the purpose of filing the complaint with the insurance department was to preserve her right to bring her claim should the Superior Court case be dismissed.

The hospital responded by filing a motion in Lake Circuit Court for a preliminary determination of law under state code, contending the insurance department complaint was barred by the MMA's two-year statute of limitations.

The Circuit Court granted the hospital's motion for summary judgment and Eads appealed, contending the Journey's Account Statute in state code saved the complaint as a continuation of the Superior Court action.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, with the majority concluding that a medical malpractice claim is different from a general negligence claim. It said the insurance department complaint was not a continuation of the original action and was therefore barred by the MMA's two-year statute of limitations.

In a footnote from the appeals court, the majority observed that even if the account statute was applied, the complaint was filed with the insurance department too late to preserve a medical malpractice claim.

Justice Theodore Boehm, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion, said the Court disagreed with the previous decision.

"We hold that under these circumstances a medical malpractice complaint alleging the same facts as the dismissed complaint may be deemed a continuation of the first complaint for purpose's of the Journey's Account Statute," wrote Boehm, who is set to step down at the end of this month.

The Court concluded that the trial court's grant of summary judgment is reversed.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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