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Justices rule on Journey’s Account Statute

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The Indiana Supreme Court believes general negligence claims filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance can continue an action already filed in state court relating to medical malpractice issues.

A unanimous decision came today in Suzanne Eads and James Atterholt v. Community Hospital, No. 45S03-1001-CV-33, reversing a ruling by Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo that was affirmed last year by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In a split decision in July 2009, the appellate court had determined the state’s Journey's Account Statute did not apply to a woman's medical malpractice claim filed after the two-year statute of limitations expired. The two-judge majority affirmed summary judgment in favor of the hospital in Suzanne Eads' medical malpractice claim. Eads' leg was put in a cast and her request for a wheelchair was denied so she left the hospital on crutches. She fell in a foyer area and injured her back and left hand.

She originally filed a negligence complaint against the hospital nearly two years after the fall. In 2007, the hospital argued the suit should be dismissed because it was a medical malpractice claim that had to be filed before the Indiana Department of Insurance. Eads then filed the proposed medical malpractice claim with the IDOI, relying on the same facts as the negligence case.

While the trial and appellate court ruled against Eads, the justices found in her favor.

“We agree that a medical malpractice claim is in some respects, as the Court of Appeals put it, ‘wholly different’ from a general negligence claim,” Justice Theodore Boehm wrote. “But we do not agree that the differences between the two are the ‘source of the liability.’ The MMA does not create a new cause of action. It merely requires that claims for medical malpractice that are recognized under tort law and applicable statutes be pursued through the procedures of the MMA.”

Noting that the law requires those claims be brought no later than three years after the termination of the first action or the statute of limitations, the JAS applies here and has a different limitation period, Justice Boehm wrote.

The justices also discounted one of the hospital’s arguments, which was that this JAS requirement wasn’t met because the hospital didn’t have notice of the financial exposure presented by the claim.

“The Hospital says it establishes reserves for claims sounding in general negligence differently than it establishes reserves for those sounding in medical malpractice,” he wrote. “This may be true, but the MMA itself generally prohibits a request for specific damage awards in the proposed IDOI complaint. I.C. § 34-18-8-3. To the extent there is a difference in reserves due to the caps on medical malpractice recovery or other procedural differences in medical malpractice cases, these are matters of law that the Hospital is equipped to evaluate for itself.”
 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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