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Justices: patient fund not entitled to set-off

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The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed a $1 million excess damages award from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund to the estate of a man who died following a truck accident, determining the fund is not entitled to a reduction of the award to account for the 20 percent chance the man would have died even without the doctor’s negligence.

In Indiana Dept. of Insurance, Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Robin Everhart, Personal Rep. of the Estate of James K. Everhart, Jr., No. 84S01-1105-CV-282, James Everhart was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a semi-truck driven by an employee of Standard Forwarding Co. Inc. Everhart was alive when he was taken to the hospital, but later died of cardiac arrest while in the care of Dr. C. Bilston Clarke, the doctor in the emergency room.

James Everhart’s wife, Robin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and the truck driver and Standard Forwarding settled for $1.9 million. Clarke settled for a lump-sum and future payments with a total present value of $187,001. Robin Everhart added a claim against the Patient’s Compensation Fund to recover the excess damages above her settlement with Clarke.

It was determined that James Everhart would have had an 80 percent chance of surviving his injuries had he received proper medical care. The estate was awarded $3.15 million, which the trial court refused to reduce by 20 percent, as the fund argued. The trial court awarded the estate the remaining $1 million of the statutory cap.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed based on the line of Mayhue cases and remanded for further proceedings.

The justices affirmed the trial court, looking at Cahoon v. Cummings, 734 N.E.2d 535 (Ind. 2000), in which the high court held that a successful Mayhue claim for causing an increased risk of harm entitled a plaintiff to damages in proportion to that increased risk. But all of the decisions in the Mayhue line of cases involved patients who stood a 50 percent or worse chance of recovering before suffering the medical negligence, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

But Cahoon doesn’t apply to cases in which a plaintiff stood a better-than-even chance of recovering before suffering some form of medical negligence. In addition, Robin Everhart’s case differs from the Mayhue line of cases in that joint tortfeasors negligently caused James Everhart an indivisible harm.

“That latter distinguishing fact triggers our rules on joint and several liability, which make it unnecessary for us to decide today whether to extend Cahoon to better-than-even cases,” he wrote.

The justices decided the rule for calculating set-offs could decide the instant matter, and it found that even if Cahoon required a reduction of the award, the fund would still have to pay the statutory maximum in excess damages. The trial court found that Robin Everhart and her son suffered injuries of at least $3.15 million, so the trial court should have reduced its finding on total injuries by $1.9 million because of the Standard Forwarding settlement and $250,000 for the settlement with Clark’s insurance company. The result: $1 million in uncompensated damages, the exact statutory limit of the fund’s liability for excess damages, wrote Shepard.

“Reducing the finding on injuries by twenty percent and then subtracting the full $1.9 million from the remainder, and then another $250,000, as the PCF asks, effectively ignores that Standard Forwarding, not Robin and Troy, should bear the remaining loss,” he wrote.

 

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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