COA reverses med-mal ruling in favor of doctor, hospital

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a judgement in favor of an East Chicago hospital and doctor after finding the Medical Malpractice Act did not govern a claim alleging the doctor negligently shared a patient’s health information.

While G.F. was a patient at St. Catherine Hospital, Inc., doctor Vatsal Patel told G.F., in the presence of G.F.’s visiting co-worker, that his “CD4 count is low” and that he needed to see his infectious disease doctor as soon as possible. Patel, who assumed the woman was G.F.’s fiancé, later apologized to G.F. for making the statement while she was in the room.

G.F.’s co-worker and friend recognized the inferences of Patel’s statements as being related to HIV/AIDS and subsequently severed all ties with G.F. He also suggested that “the word is out” at his workplace and that co-workers now “change their path” when they see him coming their way.

In August 2015, G.F. filed a proposed complaint for medical malpractice against St. Catherine and Patel. A medical review panel came to a split decision that found no breach of standard of care as to the hospital, but concluded G.F.’s claims against Patel hinged upon “a material issue of fact not requiring expert opinion, bearing on liability for consideration by the court or jury.”

G.F. then filed a complaint against St. Catherine, Patel and the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund in Marion Superior Court in January 2018, seeking a declaration of law that his claims fell outside the ambit of the Medical Malpractice Act. After permitting the hospital and doctor to file a belated response, the trial court ultimately denied G.F.’s declaratory judgment motion, finding G.F “willingly and voluntarily subjected himself to the MMA.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision in G.F. v. St. Catherine Hospital, Inc., Vatsal K. Patel, D.O., and Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund, 18A-PL-2460, finding the trial court abused its discretion in permitting St. Catherine and Patel’s request for additional filing time and its designation of evidence in support thereof.

G.F. and the fund, who presented arguments against the defendants in separate briefs, also argued the trial court erred when it concluded G.F.’s claim against Patel fell within the purview of the MMA. G.F. didn’t argue Patel’s statements led to an inaccurate diagnosis or improper treatment, but instead claimed the communication in front of his co-worker resulted in emotional harm and irreparable loss of privacy.

The appellate court concluded G.F.’s compliant pertaining to the negligent and intentional disclosure of health information was not subjected to the limitations of the MMA based on previous rulings in In H.D. v. BHC Meadows Hosp., Inc., 884 N.E.2d 849, 851-52 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008) and Reed v. Rodarte, 2013 WL 594107 (N.D. Ind. 2013).

“It is the disclosure of confidential information that is the focus of G.F.’s claim; not the services provided by Dr. Patel,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote Monday. “At no point did the broadcast of confidential information to the third party constitute a health care treatment to G.F., nor did Dr. Patel’s statement of G.F.’s HIV status to a third party have a curative or salutary effect on G.F.”

The COA further held that G.F. was not estopped from pursuing a determination that the MMA did not apply to his claims involving negligent dissemination of protected health information.

The appellate court therefore found the award of summary judgement to the defendants to be clearly erroneous, and reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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