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High court rules doctor can sue in med mal case

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that summary judgment should not have been granted because it prohibited a doctor from asserting a statutory negligence claim against a medical malpractice claimant, her attorney, and her attorney's law firm.

In the ruling Wednesday, Justices Brent Dickson and Ted Boehm concurred, with Chief Justice Randall Shepard concurring in a separate opinion. Justice Frank Sullivan concurred in part and dissented in part with a separate opinion in which Justice Robert Rucker concurred.

In Eusebio Kho M.D. v Deborah Pennington, et al., 72S04-0609-CV-332, Ruby Miller, as personal representative of the estate of Tracy Merle Lee, deceased, filed a proposed complaint for damages with the Indiana Department of Insurance, claiming the medical negligence of the hospital and various physicians resulted in Lee's death. Under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, filing a claim leads to the presentation of the claim to a medical review panel before an action is filed in court. Section 4 of Indiana Code 34-18-8 prohibits a claimant from filing an action in court against a health care provider until the claimant's complaint has been presented to a medical review panel and the panel gives an opinion. An exception to that can be found in 34-18-8-4(a)(1), which allows a person to file a simultaneous complaint in court provided the defendant is not identified.

Dr. Kho was named in Miller's complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance and in a lawsuit filed in Scott Circuit Court. After Kho filed a motion for summary judgment stating he had not provided medical care to Lee, Miller and her attorney, Deborah Pennington, dismissed Kho from the lawsuit by stipulation.

Kho commenced an action against Miller, Pennington, and her law firm, seeking damages for emotional suffering, embarrassment, undue negative publicity, injury to his reputation, and mental distress as a result of being named in the malpractice lawsuit. Kho's name appeared originally on the lawsuit because at the time of Miller's death he was on call as a local family physical for any emergency room patients without a doctor. The trial court ruled against Kho, causing him to appeal.

The Supreme Court granted transfer to address just one issue: whether violation of the defendant identity confidentiality provision under I.C. 34-18-8-7 in the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act may give rise to an action for damages. On the other issues Kho appealed, the Supreme Court declined to review and affirmed the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

The trial court's order denying the doctor's motion to correct error said Indiana Code does not provide relief to a doctor improperly named in a malpractice suit; that the code failed to set out a manner for relief for someone clearly improperly named in a malpractice suit; and that Miller and her attorney violated the provisions of I.C. 34-18-8-7, but "the violation of that statute does not relieve Dr. Kho from proving the elements of his malicious prosecution claim."

Justice Dickson wrote the purpose and function of the defendant identity confidentiality requirement of I.C. 34-18-8-7(a)(1) supports the doctor's cause of action for negligence and that the circumstances presented in this case provide an example of the statute's intended purpose. The court holds Kho's claim against Miller and Pennington for violation of the code presents a "cognizable negligence action for violation of an express statutory duty."

Chief Justice Shepherd concurred in a separate opinion, stating that Pennington may be right to argue she could include the doctor's name on the lawsuit because Kho's name would have appeared on many documents generated in the course of Lee's treatment. However, he wrote that Pennington did not have any reason to name Kho, and even if she held no personal animosity toward the doctor, that is not grounds or an excuse for using his name and Pennington was not entitled to summary judgment regarding malice.

Justice Sullivan dissented regarding Kho's ability to assert a statutory negligence claim against the defendants because no claim of statutory negligence for violation of the Indiana Code was properly before the Supreme Court; he believes I.C. 34-18-8-7 set forth procedural requirements, which if not followed, give rise to procedural and not substantive remedies; and if the claim of statutory negligence was properly before the court, the correct way to analyze the claim would be to ask whether the legislature meant for 34-18-8-7(a)(1) to be enforced privately.
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  1. Welcome to Hendricks County where local and state statutes (especially Indiana Class C misdemeanors) are given a higher consideration than Federal statues and active duty military call-ups.

  2. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  3. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  4. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  5. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

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