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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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