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COA: Claim of man killed by kick falls under Medical Malpractice Act

July 12, 2019

A man’s estate could not convince an appellate panel that a psychiatric center where he was staying was liable for his death based on the theory of premises liability. 

Roy Martinez was a former patient at Metcalf House, a voluntary group home operated by Oaklawn Psychiatric Center that offered supervised living for patients who don’t require inpatient services.

While staying at the home, Martinez was involved in a fight with Metcalf resident assistant Kennedy Kafatia after Martinez refused to go to bed. In the midst of their scuffle after both reaching for a lamp, Martinez suffered a leg injury when Kafatia kicked him in the shin. Kafatia called 911 but stayed away from Martinez while waiting for police to arrive, which was consistent with Oaklawn’s protocol for handling altercations with the psychiatric patients of Metcalf House.The large laceration on his leg ultimately killed Martinez, and his estate sued Oaklawn, alleging liability for Martinez’s injuries and resulting death under the Wrongful Death Act in Linda Martinez, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Roy Martinez v. Oaklawn Psychiatric Center, 18A-CT-2883.

Oaklawn filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that because it was a qualified health care provider under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, the estate was required to file its claim with a medical review panel. A trial court granted the motion, finding that Kafatia’s alleged conduct was “not ‘unrelated to the promotion of a patient’s health or the provider’s exercise of professional expertise, skill, or judgment.’”

In its affirmation of the dismissal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found Kafatia’s attempts to enforce Martinez’s curfew by telling him to go to bed, attempting to turn off the light and ultimately kicking him was a part of Oaklawn’s provision of healthcare to Martinez.

The appellate court cited Cox v. Evansville Police Department, et al., 107 N.E.3d 453 (Ind. 2018), noting that the current test under Trial Rule 12(B)(1) regarding whether the MMA applies to specific misconduct is to determine “whether that misconduct arises naturally or predictably from the relationship between the health care provider and patient or from an opportunity provided by that relationship.”

“When the altercation occurred that injured Martinez, Kafatia was naturally responding to Martinez’s physically aggressive behavior by defending himself. Kafatia thereafter followed Oaklawn’s protocol by removing himself from Martinez’s immediate physical presence and waiting for law enforcement to assist with Martinez,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel.

“These facts and circumstances, together with the broadened scope of employment set forth in Cox, place the incident and injuries squarely within the scope of the Medical Malpractice Act,” the panel concluded.

An attorney for Martinez’s estate argued before the panel last month that Kafatia’s actions that led to Martinez's death should take him outside the scope of protections under the Medical Malpractice Act, despite being an employee of a healthcare facility.

Separately, Kafatia was charged criminally with neglect of a dependent causing death in Martinez’s case, but a St. Joseph County jury found him not guilty in April, the South Bend Tribune reported.

 

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