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High court rules on recovery issue

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Under the statute governing the wrongful death of an unmarried adult with no dependents, the amount recoverable for reasonable medical and hospital expenses necessitated by the alleged wrongful conduct is the total amount ultimately accepted after contractual arrangements with an insurer, Medicare, or Medicaid, and not the total of the charges billed, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

In James Butler as personal representative of the Estate of Nondis Jane Butler v. Indiana Department of Insurance as Administrator of the Patient's Compensation Fund, and Clarian Health Partners, Inc., No. 49S05-0805-CV-216, the Supreme Court addressed only the first contention of the estate's appeal of summary judgment entered in favor of the Indiana Department of Insurance: recovery for reasonable and necessary medical expenses under the applicable wrongful death statute was erroneously limited to the amounts paid and should have included the total amounts billed.

Nondis Jane Butler, an unmarried adult, initiated a medical negligence claim against Clarian Health Partners and other individual health care providers. She died before her claim was resolved and left no dependents. Her estate and Clarian settled; the estate was able to proceed for the balance of its claim for damages against the Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund.

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the fund, ruling the estate isn't entitled to recover money that is the difference between the total of medical bills received and the amounts actually paid and accepted as full satisfaction by the medical providers.

The Supreme Court unanimously found the language of Indiana Code Section 34-23-1-2(c)(3)(A) to be unambiguous, which specifies that damages are allowable for reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses necessitated by the wrongful conduct that caused the death.

The open-ended language in subsection (c)(3) permits recovery of damages other than those designated in subsection (c)(3)(A) and (c)(3)(B), but doesn't direct the expansion of the circumscribed damages defined with in (A) and (B), wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

"We hold that, with respect to damages pursuant to Indiana Code § 34-23-1-2(c)(3)(A), when medical providers provide statements of charges for health care services to the decedent but thereafter accept a reduced amount adjusted due to contractual arrangements with the insurers or government benefit providers, in full satisfaction the charges, the amount recoverable under the statute for the '[r]easonable medical . . . expenses necessitated' by the wrongful act is the portion of the billed charges ultimately accepted pursuant to such contractual adjustments," wrote Justice Dickson.

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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