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Divided Supreme Court declines to take med mal case

May 15, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court by a vote of 3-2 decided this week to not take the case of a man who sued for medical malpractice those who treated his now-deceased wife. The lower court and Court of Appeals found no existence of a physician-patient relationship between the on-call hospital specialist and the wife, the issue that caused two justices to dissent.

After reading the briefs and hearing arguments in James Giles, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Ruth Giles, deceased v. Anonymous Physician I, Anonymous Corporation I, Anonymous Hospital I, Anonymous Physician II, et al., 03A01-1306-CT-257, Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justices Robert Rucker and Mark Massa declined to grant the petition to transfer.

After having an outpatient closed nasal reduction surgery, the surgeon called the on-call hospitalist to take a look at Ruth Giles because she had continued low blood pressure and chest pain. The hospitalist told her he could not treat her because her family doctor had not authorized the hospitalist or his group to treat his patients. Giles died three days later, with the cause of death listed as cardiopulmonary arrest due to respiratory failure and pneumonia.

Her husband, James, sued, but the trial court ruled in favor of the hospitalist and the medical corporation he worked for, finding the hospitalist did not have a physician-patient relationship with Giles and therefore owed no duty to her.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, pointing to caselaw that clearly explains that a physician who does not treat a patient or perform some affirmative act regarding the patient has no doctor-patient relationship and thus owes no duty to that patient.

It is on this issue that Justice Steven David dissented, with Justice Brent Dickson joining, believing transfer should be granted. They say factual issues remain as to the existence of a physician-patient relationship between the on-call hospitalist and Ruth Giles.

“In this summary judgment proceeding, where the facts are construed in a light most favorable to Giles as the non-moving party, I cannot unequivocally say that there are no genuine issues of material fact that the hospitalist did not see Giles or participate in her care, if only to consult with her and move her care forward,” David wrote.

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