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$1.25 million med mal verdict affirmed

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a $1.25 million jury verdict and in doing so ruled on three issues of first impression that will likely impact future medical malpractice suits.

In Michael A. Linton, M.D. v. Lawanda Davis, No. 45A05-0610-CV-567, the court's unanimous decision today involves Lawanda Davis' labor and delivery in August 2000, where she lost her newborn son at a Gary hospital four hours after the birth. The Indiana Medical Review Panel concluded that Dr. Michael A. Linton had deviated from the standard of care and the Indiana Medical Licensing Board investigated his conduct before the trial began in 2006 and a jury ultimately ruled for Davis.

On appeal, Linton argued the trial court shouldn't have admitted his testimony about the proceedings and rulings of the medical licensing board; that it should have allowed into evidence the review panel's determination not to forward his name to the licensing board for more investigation; and a nurse should have been allowed to testify as a witness about her perceptions of the baby's well-being during labor and delivery.

Through the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, claims must go before a medical review panel before a lawsuit can proceed; the panel's conclusion isn't decisive and by statute is admissible in a civil trial. If the panel makes a written determination as to whether a physician's name should be forwarded to the licensing board, their decision is not admissible.

In this case, the licensing board placed him on probation indefinitely and that came up during trial. Judges affirmed the lower court, holding that a physician's licensure status can be used to impeach that person's testimony, but that a medical licensing board's specific findings aren't admissible in judicial proceedings.

Linton argued on one point that Indiana Code Section 34-18-9-4 states a medical review panel's determination of "forwarding" is inadmissible, but a determination "not to forward" is allowed.

"The phrase 'determination concerning the forwarding' cannot be wrestled from the context it is used," the court wrote. "As the 'determination' refers back to the Panel's decision as to 'whether to forward,' it not only includes forwarding but must also encompass the decision not to forward."

While the court found that the trial court improperly excluded the nurse's testimony, that error was harmless and didn't affect the outcome.

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