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High court splits in hospital negligence suit

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The Indiana Supreme Court split on whether a hospital was negligent in letting a woman with injuries possibly caused by domestic violence leave with her alleged abuser, who killed her on the way home after being discharged. The majority affirmed summary judgment in favor of the hospital and treating physician, but the dissenting justices believed the issues should be up to a judge or jury to decide.

In Ava McSwane, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Malia Vandeneede, et al., v. Bloomington Hospital and Healthcare System and Jean M. Eelma, M.D., No. 53S04-0808-CV-420, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Frank Sullivan and Theodore Boehm affirmed summary judgment in favor of the hospital and Dr. Jean Eelma in a medical malpractice suit filed by Malia Vandeneede's mother, Ava McSwane.

Malia and Monty Vandeneede, Malia's ex-husband with whom she still lived, went to Bloomington Hospital for treatment of what Malia said were injuries after she fell off a horse. Monty never left Malia alone with staff except for a few occasions. Her injuries caused a nurse to believe Malia may have been abused, but Malia denied any abuse. The nurse reported the incident to the surgery nurse on duty. Eelma examined Malia and performed her surgery.

McSwane came to the hospital and told staff she believed Malia had been abused by Monty. At her discharge, a nurse told Malia she didn't have to leave with Monty, but she said she wanted to. On their way home, Monty killed Malia in their car and then himself.

McSwane filed a medical malpractice suit on behalf of Malia's estate against the hospital and Eelma. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. A split Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the hospital owed a duty to Malia.

"It is straightforward enough to say that a hospital's duty of care to a patient who presents observable signs of domestic abuse includes some reasonable measures to address the patient's risk," wrote Chief Justice Shepard.

He noted the hospital took several such actions, including direct suggestions that abuse may be the cause of Malia's injuries and letting her know she didn't have to leave with Monty.

The hospital staff couldn't have physically restrained Malia from leaving with Monty because that would interfere with patient autonomy and informed consent, two touchstones of medical malpractice law, the chief justice wrote.

The majority also affirmed that Malia's insistence on leaving with her ex-husband despite offers by hospital staff and her mother's pleas to stay was negligence that contributed to her injury. The hospital claimed Malia was alert and oriented and capable of making her own decisions when she was discharged, despite being on pain medication.

But these issues should have been presented to a trier of fact, wrote Justice Robert Rucker in his dissenting opinion, with which Justice Brent Dickson concurred.

The record showed that Eelma was never informed of the alleged abuse and may have been able to talk to Malia about it when they were alone and before she was heavily medicated. Justice Rucker also questioned whether Malia could have made reasonable decisions given the amount of drugs in her system after the surgery.

"Thus, a fact-finder should determine whether having received general anesthetic, a relaxant, numerous doses of various opiates for pain, and being advised by Hospital not to make any important decisions, Malia was exercising that degree of care that a reasonable person under the same or similar condition would have been expected to exercise when she decided to leave the hospital with her former husband," he wrote.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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