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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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