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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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