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COA clarifies emotional distress claims

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The Indiana Court of Appeals used an opinion today to clarify how to treat an independent action for emotional distress brought either in combination with the Wrongful Death Statute or as part of the Medical Malpractice Act.

In Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Gary Patrick, individually and as personal representative of the state of Christopher Patrick, deceased, No. 49A02-0807-CV-614, the Patient's Compensation Fund appealed the trial court's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment in favor of Gary Patrick in his independent claim for damages for emotional distress in conjunction with the Adult Wrongful Death Statute.

Patrick's unmarried, adult son was severely injured in a car accident and discharged from the hospital despite pain and abdominal swelling. A day later, the son collapsed and died from his injuries in Patrick's home. The hospital and physician settled the estate's medical malpractice claim for an overall payout of $250,000. Patrick then filed his petition for payment of excess damages against the fund. The trial court concluded his claim was independent of his claim for damages under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute and awarded him $600,000.

The fund argued Patrick's claim is more properly characterized as derivative rather than independent and falls under the damage limitations of the Adult Wrongful Death Statute. It also argued the statute doesn't include a provision for the recovery of damages for emotional distress.

Noting the confusion in this area of law stems from the fact that damages for emotional distress are treated differently depending upon the vehicle in which they are instituted, the Court of Appeals examined previous caselaw to clarify claims for emotional distress brought as part of a Wrongful Death Statute or part of the Medical Malpractice Act.

Patrick asserted his claim arose from the negligence of the medical personnel treating his son in the context of medical malpractice. Since the son had a claim for medical malpractice, Patrick, as his father, is considered a patient who can have a claim, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Having met the condition precedent for a cause of action for medical malpractice, the fact the son died as a result of the malpractice and that the claim had to be pursued under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute doesn't alter the existence or nature of the claim, wrote Judge Riley. The trial court was correct in characterizing Patrick's claim for damages as independent of and in addition to the adult wrongful death claim.

Patrick's assertion for damages for emotional distress as a bystander is pursuant to Groves v. Taylor, 729 N.E.2d 569 (Ind. 2000). Although Patrick wasn't present in the hospital when the medical malpractice occurred, he dealt with the aftermath of the malpractice, and was therefore able to bring an independent claim for damages for emotional distress in conjunction with his claim under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute, the judge wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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