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Delayed submission of filing fee compared to dilemma created by a $7 horse-shoe nail

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In overturning the trial court’s ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court compared the case to Poor Richard’s admonition: “For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe, the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.”

Ann and Richard Miller filed a medical malpractice complaint to the Indiana Department of Insurance by certified mail on March 18, 2008. After discovering the $7 statutory filing and processing fees were not included, the department sent the Millers’ attorney a letter on March 31 stating the mandatory fees needed to be sent within 30 days and that the complaint would “not be considered filed with the Department until the filing fees…[were] received.”

When Millers’ attorney received the letter April 4, he immediately sent the check. On April 7, the department received the check and re-file-stamped the proposed complaint April 7.

The defendants subsequently raised an affirmative defense of the statute of limitations and moved for summary judgment on that basis. They argued the Millers’ proposed complaint was untimely because it did not receive the requisite filing and processing fees until April 7, three days after the statutory period ended.

The Supreme Court disagreed in Ann L. Miller and Richard A. Miller v. Glenn L. Dobbs, D.O and Partners in Health, 15S05-1302-CT-91. It pointed to the language of the “Statute of Limitations” chapter of the state’s Medical Malpractice Act which states that “a proposed complaint under Indiana Code 34-18-8 is considered filed when a copy of the proposed complaint is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail to the commissioner.”

This, the court held, suggests that a proposed complaint is considered filed regardless of whether the required fees are submitted with it.

 “Ultimately, as we read the statute, it does not mandate that the Millers’ claim is lost for want of this seven-dollar horse-shoe nail,” Justice Massa wrote for the court. “We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.”





 

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