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State not allowed to intervene in Weinberger case

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Finding the law does not allow the state to become a party to otherwise private litigation at any stage of the proceedings, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed its prior order granting the state’s motion to intervene in a settlement reached between former doctor Mark Weinberger and the estate of a patient.

In Mark S. Weinberger, M.D. v. Estate of Phyllis R. Barnes, Deceased, By Peggy Hood as Personal Representative, Joe Clinkenbeard, P.A., et al., 45A04-1107-CT-369, Phyllis Barnes filed a medical malpractice complaint against the nose, throat and ear doctor after discovering he performed an unnecessary surgery on her sinuses. After getting a second opinion, she learned she had advanced cancer, which could have been discovered at the time she saw Weinberger. After her death, her estate took over her claim.

A jury awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, which was later reduced to $1.25 million in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages. The parties then entered into a settlement agreement in which Weinberger agreed to pay $1.72 million and waived the estate’s interest in the punitive damages award.

The state sought to intervene because it would be entitled to 75 percent – $6.75 million – of the punitive damages award under state law.

The Court of Appeals concluded that I.C. 34-51-3-6 does not give the state power to intervene in otherwise private litigation, ostensibly to protect its interest in a punitive damage award. Because the only proper parties to the appeal have amicably resolved their dispute, the COA dismissed as there is nothing left for the judges to decide. Upon petition by the parties, the trial court shall vacate the damages judgment against Weinberger.

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  • Politics before practicality
    Nice job, AG's office. Now you have case law shutting you out of the settlement process entirely. All because you would not reasonably settle the Weinberger case. This is what happens when you put politics ahead of practicality. After all, it's not like Weinberger can pay you from the penitentiary. And, insurance does not cover punitive damages. What a silly position to have taken that resulted in this decision that you're sure not to like.

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