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Fee cap provision in Med Mal Act does not reduce fund’s liability

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The Indiana Supreme Court has sided with an estate in a dispute over whether the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act's cap on attorney fees from a Patient Compensation Fund award also applies to reduce the fund’s liability. The issue is one of first impression in Indiana.

The estate of Mable Louise Cochran received excess damages from the fund after it settled an adult wrongful death medical malpractice claim against Cochran’s nursing home for $250,000, the maximum liability of the nursing home under the Medical Malpractice Act. The estate and the fund left it up to the trial court to determine how much in attorney fees the fund should pay the estate.

The estate argued the fund should pay more than $50,000 in attorney fees on the $101,166.89 settlement with the fund. The fund claimed the 15 percent limit on attorney fees imposed by the MMA should be judicially expanded to directly apply to the fund and limit its liability on a basis unrelated to the specific attorney fee claim.

The trial court ordered the fund to pay the estate the $50,000 in attorney fees as the fund’s remaining liability for excess wrongful death damages; the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

On Tuesday, the justices unanimously affirmed the trial court in Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Judy Holcomb, Personal Representative of the Estate of Mable Louise Cochran, Deceased, 49S05-1404-CC-209.

The fee cap provision in I.C. 34-18-18-1 says that in malpractice cases, “the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees from any award made from the patient’s compensation fund may not exceed fifteen percent (15%) of any recovery from the fund.”

“In crafting the language of the Fee Cap Provision, the General Assembly did not direct any reduction in the Fund's liability to a plaintiff, nor any methodology to be employed. Rather, the 15% limitation expressly applies to ‘the plaintiff's attorney's fees.’  That is, the legislature chose language that applied the 15% limit only on the attorney fees that an attorney could charge his or her client on the client's award received from the Fund,” Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “If the legislature intended the 15% limitation to reduce the liability of the Fund to an AWDS claimant, then it would have clearly directed such result, specified the method of calculation to be utilized, and placed the Fee Cap Provision in Chapter 14 of the MMA— the chapter entitled ‘Limits on Damages.’ Principles of judicial restraint compel us to interpret and apply the Fee Cap Provision as written and to refrain from judicially rewriting this legislative enactment.”
 

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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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  5. 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!

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