COA clarifies confusion around judicial admissions

The Indiana Court of Appeals noted in its decision Thursday in a medical malpractice lawsuit that the line of authority that has developed on judicial admissions is based on an error made in a 1990 case. The judges used their opinion to affirm the jury verdict in favor of the defendant doctor and to clarify that judicial admissions are conclusive and binding.

Susan Stewart filed the medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Arthur Alunday, the internist who was her mother’s doctor. Joanne Hatton was 85 years old and had osteoporosis and scoliosis at the time of her death. She was admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms and developed a MRSA infection while there. Alunday started her on intravenous vancomycin to treat the infection. Shortly thereafter, Hatton complained of worsening lower back pain. Before being able to have a procedure on her vertebra, Alunday had Hatton tested to make sure the MRSA was not in her blood stream because if so, the procedure could kill her. The test came back negative, Hatton had the surgery, and shortly thereafter developed a widespread MRSA infection. She died six weeks after the surgery.

Stewart alleged at the trial on her complaint that Alunday judicially admitted to breaching the standard of care based on his response to two bullet points that his attorney made when summarizing the doctor’s deposition. The trial judge found the statements to be judicial admissions, but then said it should be up to the trier of fact to consider the evidence and weigh it. The judge denied Stewart’s motion for judgment on the evidence and the jury ruled in favor of Alunday.

The Court of Appeals noted that the trial judge cited Weinberger v. Boyer, 956 N.E.2d 1095 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), trans. denied, and Waugh v. Kelly, 555 N.E.2d 857 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990) in denying Stewart’s motion.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik pointed out that Waugh correctly began by stating a judicial admission is conclusive upon the party making it and relieves the opposing party of the duty to present evidence on that issue. But then, the opinion included the standard for evidentiary, and not judicial, admissions, citing a 1919 case.

“Because of an error made in 1990 in Waugh that commingled the standards for judicial and evidentiary admissions, which has since been repeated in other cases including Weinberger, we now clarify that unlike evidentiary admissions, which the trier of fact may accept or reject, judicial admissions are conclusive and binding on the trier of fact,” she wrote.

The judges held that Alunday did not make a judicial statement. In fact, the second statement Stewart pointed to was merely Alunday agreeing with one of the attorney’s statements. The doctor also testified that he did, in fact, consider whether Hatton still had a MRSA infection. Therefore, the judges affirmed the denial of Stewart’s motion for judgment on the evidence.

The case is Susan Stewart, Personal Representative of the Estate of Joanne Hatton, deceased v. Arthur Alunday, M.D.


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