The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that Timothy Plank, who filed a medical malpractice complaint following the death of his wife in 2001, forfeited his opportunity to conduct an evidentiary hearing challenging the constitutionality of the Medical Malpractice Act.
Plank filed his lawsuit in November 2003 after his wife Debra died of sepsis following failed diagnoses at Community Hospitals of Indiana. The case proceeded to trial in August 2009 with Community as the sole defendant. In September 2009, Plank was awarded damages of $8.5 million by the jury, which was reduced to the statutory cap of $1.25 million following a motion made by Community. Plank did not object to the reduction until eight days later.
He sought an evidentiary hearing to develop his constitutional challenge, which was ultimately denied by the trial court. The Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court granted transfer to address the propriety of Plank’s constitutional claim.
Plank wants to hold the hearing so he can establish that the factual underpinnings that led the Supreme Court to declare the statutory cap constitutional in 1980 in Johnson v. St. Vincent Hospital, 404 N.E.2d 585 (Ind. 1980), no longer exist today.
In Timothy W. Plank, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Debra L. Plank, Deceased v. Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc., and State of Indiana, 49S04-1203-CT-135, the justices found that Plank forfeited the opportunity to conduct a hearing to develop his claim, finding that by the time the complaint proceeded to trial, the matter had been pending for nearly six years. They rejected his assertion that there was no way to know whether the damages would exceed the cap before trial, so his first chance to raise the issues was after the jury returned its verdict.
“In any event, not only did Plank fail to file a pre-trial motion challenging the cap and asserting a need for an evidentiary hearing to develop a record in this regard, but Plank also failed to make any such claim at any time prior to the jury verdict in this nearly two-week long trial. In fact when Community moved to reduce the jury award in accordance with the cap, Plank raised no objection and agreed to ‘prepare a proposed judgment for the court,’” Justice Robert Rucker wrote. “It was not until eight days later that Plank objected to the reduction of the award and requested a hearing. This was too late.”