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Mother of stillborn fetus satisfies actual victim requirement in Med-Mal Act

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The Indiana Court of Appeals held today that a mother who suffers a stillbirth due to medical malpractice qualifies as an injured patient and satisfies the actual victim requirement under the Medical Malpractice Act, regardless of whether the malpractice resulted in injuries to the mother, fetus, or both.

In Steven Spangler and Heidi Brown v. Barbara Bechtel, et al., No. 49A05-0908-CV-482, unmarried parents Steven Spangler and Heidi Brown appealed summary judgment in favor of St. Vincent Randolph Hospital, nurse-midwife Barbara Bechtel, and Expectations Women’s Health and Childbearing Center for wrongful death and emotional distress. Their baby was stillborn and could not be resuscitated.

The appellate court found the parents have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon Brown’s direct involvement in the stillbirth. Indiana courts have held on numerous occasions that when a malpractice claim is brought based upon malpractice affecting a pregnancy, the mother satisfies Shuamber’s modified impact rule, 579 N.E.2d 452, 454 (Ind. 1991). The hospital failed to cite a case in which an Indiana court precluded parents of a fetus suffering death as a result of medical malpractice from asserting a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, noted Judge Elaine Brown.

The judges also ruled the parents can assert their claim under the Medical Malpractice Act. In previous cases allowing for recovery of emotional damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress stemming from miscarriages or stillbirths, the mothers were physically injured as a result of malpractice.

Previous caselaw hadn’t addressed whether Brown would qualify as an “actual victim” of negligence able to assert the parents’ claim for emotional distress because she wasn’t physically injured by the malpractice. The appellate court was persuaded by the parents’ argument that if an unborn child isn’t a separate person under law, then the unborn child must be a part of the mother, physically and legally. Other jurisdictions with similarly constructed laws have reached this conclusion, wrote Judge Brown.

“We do not believe that the legislature intended such sweeping legal implications as to preclude medical malpractice liability on the one hand and allow it on the other based upon whether a full-term, viable fetus actually survives the pregnancy, even if for a day or two only,” she wrote.

The appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of the hospital and midwife and remanded for further proceedings.
 

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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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