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Court finds facilities have immunity in suit over detention

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The three unidentified entities involved in the detention of a Bloomington man for several days after he refused in-patient treatment for alcoholism are entitled to immunity in his lawsuit alleging medical malpractice, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Thomas and Cathy Haggerty filed the lawsuit against the entities identified by the court as Anonymous Party 1, 2 and 3 after Thomas Haggerty refused to stay at the AP1 facility and threatened to walk home to Bloomington from Indianapolis on a cold winter night. Haggerty had been hospitalized for complications due to alcoholism and was to receive in-patient treatment in Indianapolis. He did not want to stay, which led to AP2 being called. AP2, a nearby medical facility, picked up Haggerty and detained him. AP3, a corporate entity related to AP2, was also named in the Haggertys’ proposed complaint for medical malpractice and subsequent lawsuit.

All three parties argued they were immune from liability under I.C. 12-26-2-6, which grants immunity to those who assist or participate in proceedings for an individual’s detention or commitment. The trial court granted AP1’s motion for summary judgment, but denied it related to the other parties. The Haggertys appealed the grant of summary judgment. AP2 and AP3 filed a belated motion to certify the trial court’s order for interlocutory appeal. The trial court granted the belated motion, and the COA accepted jurisdiction over the combined appeal.

The Haggertys argued that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the issue of immunity because that issue was reserved for the medical review panel, as well as that none of the anonymous parties are entitled to immunity under Indiana law because they violated Haggerty’s personal or civil rights.

The COA found the trial court had jurisdiction to rule on the issue of immunity because it is an affirmative defense.

“The trial court did not need an expert opinion to determine whether the anonymous parties could claim immunity under Section 12-26-2-6; this is a legal determination that the court was capable of making on its own,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

All three judges on the panel agreed AP1 is entitled to immunity. Vaidik and Judge Ezra Friedlander found AP2 and AP3 are entitled to immunity and reversed the denial of their motions for summary judgment.

But Judge John Baker dissented from his colleagues’ decision to grant summary judgment for AP2 and AP3 on the immunity issue. Baker believed Haggerty’s testimony that he was placed in a small bathroom for four hours before being admitted to AP2 creates a genuine issue of material fact. This is the type of issue the medical review panel should assess to determine whether the actions of AP2 were appropriate, he wrote.

The case is Thomas Haggerty and Cathy Haggerty v. Anonymous Party 1, Anonymous Party 2, and Anonymous Party 3, 53A01-1210-CT-472.

 

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