ILNews

Mother of stillborn fetus satisfies actual victim requirement in Med-Mal Act

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The Indiana Court of Appeals held today that a mother who suffers a stillbirth due to medical malpractice qualifies as an injured patient and satisfies the actual victim requirement under the Medical Malpractice Act, regardless of whether the malpractice resulted in injuries to the mother, fetus, or both.

In Steven Spangler and Heidi Brown v. Barbara Bechtel, et al., No. 49A05-0908-CV-482, unmarried parents Steven Spangler and Heidi Brown appealed summary judgment in favor of St. Vincent Randolph Hospital, nurse-midwife Barbara Bechtel, and Expectations Women’s Health and Childbearing Center for wrongful death and emotional distress. Their baby was stillborn and could not be resuscitated.

The appellate court found the parents have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon Brown’s direct involvement in the stillbirth. Indiana courts have held on numerous occasions that when a malpractice claim is brought based upon malpractice affecting a pregnancy, the mother satisfies Shuamber’s modified impact rule, 579 N.E.2d 452, 454 (Ind. 1991). The hospital failed to cite a case in which an Indiana court precluded parents of a fetus suffering death as a result of medical malpractice from asserting a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, noted Judge Elaine Brown.

The judges also ruled the parents can assert their claim under the Medical Malpractice Act. In previous cases allowing for recovery of emotional damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress stemming from miscarriages or stillbirths, the mothers were physically injured as a result of malpractice.

Previous caselaw hadn’t addressed whether Brown would qualify as an “actual victim” of negligence able to assert the parents’ claim for emotional distress because she wasn’t physically injured by the malpractice. The appellate court was persuaded by the parents’ argument that if an unborn child isn’t a separate person under law, then the unborn child must be a part of the mother, physically and legally. Other jurisdictions with similarly constructed laws have reached this conclusion, wrote Judge Brown.

“We do not believe that the legislature intended such sweeping legal implications as to preclude medical malpractice liability on the one hand and allow it on the other based upon whether a full-term, viable fetus actually survives the pregnancy, even if for a day or two only,” she wrote.

The appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of the hospital and midwife and remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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