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High court rules doctor can sue in med mal case

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that summary judgment should not have been granted because it prohibited a doctor from asserting a statutory negligence claim against a medical malpractice claimant, her attorney, and her attorney's law firm.

In the ruling Wednesday, Justices Brent Dickson and Ted Boehm concurred, with Chief Justice Randall Shepard concurring in a separate opinion. Justice Frank Sullivan concurred in part and dissented in part with a separate opinion in which Justice Robert Rucker concurred.

In Eusebio Kho M.D. v Deborah Pennington, et al., 72S04-0609-CV-332, Ruby Miller, as personal representative of the estate of Tracy Merle Lee, deceased, filed a proposed complaint for damages with the Indiana Department of Insurance, claiming the medical negligence of the hospital and various physicians resulted in Lee's death. Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, filing a claim leads to the presentation of the claim to a medical review panel before an action is filed in court. Section 4 of Indiana Code 34-18-8 prohibits a claimant from filing an action in court against a health care provider until the claimant's complaint has been presented to a medical review panel and the panel gives an opinion. An exception to that can be found in 34-18-8-4(a)(1), which allows a person to file a simultaneous complaint in court provided the defendant is not identified.

Dr. Kho was named in Miller's complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance and in a lawsuit filed in Scott Circuit Court. After Kho filed a motion for summary judgment stating he had not provided medical care to Lee, Miller and her attorney, Deborah Pennington, dismissed Kho from the lawsuit by stipulation.

Kho commenced an action against Miller, Pennington, and her law firm, seeking damages for emotional suffering, embarrassment, undue negative publicity, injury to his reputation, and mental distress as a result of being named in the malpractice lawsuit. Kho's name appeared originally on the lawsuit because at the time of Miller's death he was on call as a local family physical for any emergency room patients without a doctor. The trial court ruled against Kho, causing him to appeal.

The Supreme Court granted transfer to address just one issue: whether violation of the defendant identity confidentiality provision under I.C. 34-18-8-7 in the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act may give rise to an action for damages. On the other issues Kho appealed, the Supreme Court declined to review and affirmed the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

The trial court's order denying the doctor's motion to correct error said Indiana Code does not provide relief to a doctor improperly named in a malpractice suit; that the code failed to set out a manner for relief for someone clearly improperly named in a malpractice suit; and that Miller and her attorney violated the provisions of I.C. 34-18-8-7, but "the violation of that statute does not relieve Dr. Kho from proving the elements of his malicious prosecution claim."

Justice Dickson wrote the purpose and function of the defendant identity confidentiality requirement of I.C. 34-18-8-7(a)(1) supports the doctor's cause of action for negligence and that the circumstances presented in this case provide an example of the statute's intended purpose. The court holds Kho's claim against Miller and Pennington for violation of the code presents a "cognizable negligence action for violation of an express statutory duty."

Chief Justice Shepherd concurred in a separate opinion, stating that Pennington may be right to argue she could include the doctor's name on the lawsuit because Kho's name would have appeared on many documents generated in the course of Lee's treatment. However, he wrote that Pennington did not have any reason to name Kho, and even if she held no personal animosity toward the doctor, that is not grounds or an excuse for using his name and Pennington was not entitled to summary judgment regarding malice.

Justice Sullivan dissented regarding Kho's ability to assert a statutory negligence claim against the defendants because no claim of statutory negligence for violation of the Indiana Code was properly before the Supreme Court; he believes I.C. 34-18-8-7 set forth procedural requirements, which if not followed, give rise to procedural and not substantive remedies; and if the claim of statutory negligence was properly before the court, the correct way to analyze the claim would be to ask whether the legislature meant for 34-18-8-7(a)(1) to be enforced privately.
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  1. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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