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Foster child’s claim against health center falls outside Medical Malpractice Act

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A Morgan County court erred when it granted Adult and Child Mental Health Center Inc.’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of a child in foster care who suffered severe brain damage from a near-drowning. The center argued the complaint was subject to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.

B.R. was 3 years old when he was placed in therapeutic foster care and referred to the health center. He had disruptive behavior disorder and was significantly developmentally delayed. He was placed with foster parents, and a health center employee supervised the placement and served as B.R.’s case manager. The center has a contract with the Department of Child Services to facilitate these types of placements.

In 2007, while B.R. was placed in respite care with therapeutic foster parents Mark and Penny Hughes, he ran onto an adjacent property, entered a pool and nearly drowned, resulting in serious damage to his brain.

The health center sought to dismiss the lawsuit that alleged it breached its duty to B.R. by failing to adequately supervise his foster parents, the Hugheses’ property, and other claims. It alleged that B.R.’s action is a malpractice claim against a health care provider, which claim is subject to review by a medical review panel, and that since B.R. had not submitted his claim through the review panel process, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Morgan Superior Court granted the center’s motion to dismiss.

In B.R., a Minor, by his Guardian, Teresa Todd v. State of Indiana, Indiana Department of Child Services, Morgan County Office of Department of Child Services, and Adult and Child Mental Health Center, 55A05-1212-CT-639, the Court of Appeals found that the health center’s authority to make therapeutic foster care placements arises solely from its contract with DCS. The appellate court also held that the center was not providing health care to B.R. when it placed him with the Hugheses, as defined under I.C. 34-18-2-18. The judges rejected the center’s argument that the claim should first go before a medical review panel.

“The issues presented in this case surrounding B.R.’s case manager’s alleged negligence are unquestionably within the understanding of the average lay juror. A medical professional is no better equipped than the average juror to consider whether the case manager complied with the appropriate standard of care,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote.

“The allegations in B.R.’s complaint, i.e. that his case manager negligently placed him with the respite therapeutic foster parents and negligently failed to inform the foster parents that B.R. was an overly active child known to run from adults and escape his home, are not directly related to any medical care B.R. received from the Health Center. Furthermore, the foster care placement was not made by a health care professional. Because B.R.’s claims sound in general negligence, his claims fall outside the Medical Malpractice Act.”
 

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