No summary judgment on issue of whether complaint was timely filed

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of a doctor in a medical malpractice action, finding there are questions around whether the plaintiff timely filed the proposed complaint.

Tomika Johnson filed the malpractice complaint against Drs. David Sullivan and Jose Arias and Deaconess Hospital following the death of Barton Johnson. Barton was transferred to the hospital Dec. 22, 2006, and had a CT scan. Sullivan interpreted the CT scan and signed a radiological report. The next day, Barton died. On Dec. 26, Sullivan issued another report on the CT scan, with a second page subtitled “appended report,” noting the case was reviewed in retrospect.

The proposed complaint was postmarked Dec. 23, 2008. In 2010, the trial court granted summary judgment to Sullivan, who alleged Johnson failed to file the proposed complaint within the two-year statute of limitations period.

The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for Sullivan with regards to Johnson’s arguments that the doctrine of “continuing wrong” precluded summary judgment, Sullivan had been involved in the case after Dec. 22, 2006, and the doctor fraudulently concealed an otherwise valid claim from Johnson. But the judges did find an issue of material fact regarding whether the proposed complaint was actually filed Dec. 22, 2008, despite the Dec. 23 postmark.

An affidavit from Johnson’s attorney’s legal assistant claims that the assistant took the proposed complaint to the post office Dec. 22.

“Under the Medical Malpractice Act, the date of delivery or mailing, not the date of postmarking, is the date a proposed complaint is considered filed,” wrote Judge Cale Bradford in Tomika Johnson, et al. v. David Sullivan, M.D., et al., No. 82A05-1102-MI-108. “While it may be that a postmark indicates the date on which an item was mailed in the vast majority of cases, there is no indication in the record that this is always so. We hold today that evidence of mailing on a particular date, even if it contradicts a postmark, is competent to prove filing on that date for purposes of the Medical Malpractice Act.”

Judge John Baker concurred in a separate opinion, encouraging that the issue of whether the complaint was timely mailed might be tried first. Only if the answer is yes should the parties then “undertake the expense of conducting discovery and presenting their proof of the remaining issues,” which would potentially save “both public and private resources,” he wrote.


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