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Justices take case involving stillborn fetus and Med-Mal Act

January 4, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to a case in which the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled a mother of a stillborn fetus satisfied the actual victim requirement under the Medical Malpractice Act.

The justices took the case, Steven Spangler, et al. v. Barbara Bechtel, et al., No. 49S05-1012-CV-703, in the week ending Dec. 31.

In July 2010, the lower appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of St. Vincent Randolph Hospital, nurse-midwife Barbara Bechtel, and Expectations Women’s Health and Childbearing Center in a suit brought by parents Steven Spangler and Heidi Brown for wrongful death and emotional distress. Their child was stillborn and couldn’t be resuscitated.

The judges ruled the parents have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon Brown’s direct involvement with the stillbirth and that the parents can assert their claim under the Medical Malpractice Act.

No other cases had 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 judges agreed with 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.

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