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Supreme Court strikes down contentious med-mal ruling

April 10, 2017

After six years of controversy over the limits, or lack thereof, on what evidence and arguments may be presented to a trial court during a medical malpractice proceeding, the Indiana Supreme Court has denounced a highly disputed medical malpractice case while simultaneously adopting a recent Court of Appeals opinion.

In a per curiam opinion handed down late Friday afternoon in the case of Charles McKeen, M.D. v. Billy Turner, 53S05-1704-CT-202, the Indiana Supreme Court “expressly disapproved” of the Indiana Court of Appeals holding in K.D. v. Chambers, 951 N.E.2d 855 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011). In that case, the Court of Appeals found that “a malpractice plaintiff cannot present one breach of the standard of care to the panel and, after receiving an opinion, proceed to trial and raise claims of additional, separate breaches of the standard of care that were not presented to the panel and addressed in its opinion.”

After the decision in K.D. was handed down, controversy among medical malpractice attorneys arose as they tried to reconcile K.D. with the established precedent in Miller v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Inc., 679 N.E.2d 1329 (Ind. 1997), in which the Indiana Supreme Court held that “there is no requirement for … plaintiff to fully explicate and provide the particulars or legal contentions regarding the claim.”

That conflict was the crux of the McKeen case, in which Billy Turner brought a malpractice case against Dr. Charles McKeen, who treated McKeen’s wife, Rowena, before her eventual death. After a medical review panel found in McKeen’s favor, Turner took his case to the Monroe Circuit Court, where he filed a supplemental witness list naming an expert hematologist who would testify to McKeen’s failure “to prescribe the appropriate dosage of anticoagulation medication, leading to Rowena’s death.”

McKeen, however, filed a motion to strike the hematologist’s opinion, arguing that Turner’s submission to the review panel did not allege malpractice related to anticoagulation medication. The trial court denied McKeen’s motion and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “a plaintiff may raise any theories of alleged malpractice during litigation following the MRP process if (1) the proposed complaint encompasses the theories, and (2) the evidence relating to those theories was before the MRP.”

Both Turner and McKeen took their case to the Indiana Supreme Court last month, urging the justices to grant transfer for the sake of providing clarity to medical malpractice litigators. Counsel for both parties said the dispute between K.D. and Miller had spread beyond the McKeen case, so the judiciary needed guidance on how to proceed in future medical malpractice cases.  

Turner’s counsel urged the court to reject K.D. altogether, and the justices did just that in their Friday opinion, granting transfer and adopting and incorporating the Court of Appeals’ McKeen opinion. Additionally, the court found K.D. to be at odds with Miller, and thus “expressly disapproved” of its holding.
 

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