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Justices reverse ruling against hospital on spoliation claim

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Relying on workers’ compensation cases involving first- and third-party spoliation claims, the Indiana Supreme Court has declined to recognize similar claims regarding medical malpractice suits.

Lisa Gordon sued Howard Community Hospital, alleging it committed medical malpractice while caring for and delivering her son, Jacob. In her complaint, she included a count for spoliation, saying the hospital had lost certain medical records associated with her son’s care and the loss made it impossible for her to pursue a medical malpractice claim against one of Jacob’s doctors. The Gordons moved for partial summary judgment against Howard Regional with respect to their third-party spoliation claim, which the trial court granted.

On interlocutory appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, but the justices reversed Wednesday in Howard Regional Health System, et al. v. Jacob Gordon, b/n/f Lisa Gordon, No. 34S02-1009-CV-476. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote for the majority, addressing whether the spoliation claim falls under the Medical Malpractice Act, requiring a medical review panel to give its opinion before an action against the hospital can begin, and whether the Gordons even have a claim for spoliation.

The majority concluded that the claim falls under the general scope of the Medical Malpractice Act and Indiana’s statute on maintenance of health records does not create a private right to action.

“The Gordons’ underlying claim in Count II alleges medical malpractice because the ‘[m]aintenance of health records by providers’ is so closely entwined with health care and because records in general are so important to a medical review panel’s assessment of whether the appropriate standard of care was met,” wrote the chief justice. “Surely the skillful, accurate, and ongoing maintenance of test and treatment records bears strongly on subsequent treatment and diagnosis of patients. It is a part of what patients expect from health care providers. It is difficult to contemplate that such a service falls outside the Act.”

Relying on Gribben v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 824 N.E.2d 349, 350 (Ind. 2005), and Glotzbach v. Froman, 854 N.E.2d 337 (Ind. 2006), which dealt with first- and third-party spoliation claims in worker’s compensation cases, the majority found that the Gordons actually present a claim for first-party spoliation. In Gribben, the high court declined to recognize first-party spoliation claims and instead would address the claims through sanctions. It’s unknown at this point if the Gordons are entitled to any sanctions against the hospital.

Justice Brent Dickson concurred in result, writing, “While I conclude that (a) the Gordons' spoliation claim does not necessarily fall within the constraints of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act; (b) the undisputed evidence establishes that the Hospital breached its statutory duty to maintain medical records; and (c) the Gordons' claim against the Hospital for loss of records that impairs their claims against the non-Hospital defendants is for third-party, not first-party spoliation; I am nevertheless persuaded that the elements of proximate cause and damages are not established in this third-party spoliation case. It is for this reason that I agree to reverse the grant of partial summary judgment.”

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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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