Justices weigh if doctor who reported suspected abuse can be sued

A dispute over whether doctors who report suspected child abuse are protected under Indiana statute will come before the state’s high court this week — one of three oral arguments the court will hear Thursday.

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear Paul Gresk, et al. v. Cortney Demetris, M.D., 49S02-1711-MI-00686, at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Justices will hear arguments regarding whether a medical malpractice case against Dr. Cortney Demetris should be allowed to continue. Stacey VanWinkle sued Demetris after the doctor reported suspected medical child abuse against her children to the Department of Child Services, leading to their temporary removal from VanWinkle’s care.

The trial court dismissed the suit on the grounds that Demetris’ report was protected by Indiana’s Anti-SLAPP statute, but the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed and reinstated the medical malpractice case in July. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote then that Demetris’ report to DCS was related to a private matter and was not made “in furtherance of” free speech or petitioning rights. Thus, anti-SLAPP protections could not apply.

A second doctor’s claim will also come before the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday, this time related to an award of attorney fees to a doctor who won a lawsuit after he was terminated.

After Dr. Roderick Sawyer was fired from St. Vincent Medical Group in 2010 and received nearly $197,000 in membership interest, he filed a complaint alleging breach of contract. A jury found in favor of Sawyer and awarded him damages, but the trial court awarded the doctor only $27,233.19 in attorney fees. That number was calculated by the defendant hospital, while Sawyer alleged he had incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the award of attorney fees, finding the trial court erred in basing the amount exclusively on the hospital’s calculation. The court remanded the case for further proceedings in June.

The court will hear Care Group Heart Hospital v. Roderick Sawyer, M.D., 49S05-1710-PL-00671, at 9 a.m.

Finally, the justices will consider whether a probation condition that bans a sex offender from using the internet without permission is constitutional during oral argument in Kristopher Weida v. State of Indiana, 79S02-1711-CR-00687. In that case, the probation condition requiring permission for internet access was imposed on Kristopher Weida after he was convicted of felony incest with his teenage niece.

A majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the condition in an August opinion, but Judge John Baker dissented, finding the condition was “unduly intrusive and unnecessarily restrictive.” However, a unanimous court upheld Weida’s three-year sentence, which he also challenged on appeal.

Weida’s case will come before the court at 9:45 a.m.

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