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Judge dissents in denial of rehearing

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Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margret Robb has issued a lengthy dissent from her colleagues’ denial to rehear a case involving the state’s patient compensation fund. After reviewing the case, she believed the appellate court shouldn’t have applied Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 323.

Posted Tuesday afternoon, the nine-page dissent in Indiana Dept. of Insurance, et al. v. Robin Everhart, personal representative of the estate of James K. Everhart Jr., No. 84A01-0912-CV-614, re-examines the use of Section 323 and the line of cases that developed after the Indiana Supreme Court adopted the section’s approach in Mayhue v. Sparks, 653 N.E.2d 1384 (Ind. 1995). Section 323 outlines that one is liable for harm to another if the failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm. It allows the plaintiff to avoid summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause even when there was a less than 50 percent chance of recovery absent the negligence.

James Everhart was injured in an automobile accident and later died. It was determined that he had a better than 80 percent chance of surviving his injuries in the absence of a doctor’s negligence. The trial court awarded Everhart’s estate the statutory maximum of $1 million from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. The fund appealed and the COA reversed, finding the trial court should have awarded damages only in proportion to the increase in risk of harm that was caused by the malpractice.

Mayhue and the line of cases that followed it don’t apply to the instant matter, she decided, believing the fact that the patients in those cases had less than a 50 percent chance of recovery or survival absent medical negligence was critical to the holding of those cases.

“In my view, section 323 was adopted in Mayhue and applied in the ensuing cases to specifically address the situation where a patient already has a less than fifty percent chance of survival. A plaintiff in such a situation could never prove under traditional tort principles that a doctor whose negligence contributed to the death was also the proximate cause, but Mayhue provides an avenue of recourse,” she wrote.

Instead, in Everhart’s case, the doctor’s negligence was the proximate cause of his death. Robin Everhart proceeded to recover under a traditional tort analysis and Judge Robb believed that the appellate court should have done so as well. She would grant the petition for rehearing to affirm the trial court.

She also pointed out the overall tone of Robin Everhart’s petition for rehearing is “not in general effective appellate advocacy” with the opinion saying the previous ruling “destroys the foundation of our civil justice system” and allowing the decision to stand will render proximate cause meaningless.

“I would caution counsel that future disagreement with this court can and should be addressed without unnecessary hyperbole,” she wrote.

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