Appellate court reinstates med-mal case against doctor who wasn’t served for 1 year

A doctor who wasn’t notified of a lawsuit against him until one year after it was filed must face the lawsuit after the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed its dismissal.

After John Murphy died while he was living at a New Albany nursing home, his daughter-in-law, Jamiee Stromblad, was appointed the personal representative of his estate.

In August 2019, Stromblad filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint as Murphy’s personal representative with the Indiana Department of Insurance and the Floyd Circuit Court, alleging, among other things, medical malpractice and negligence by Anonymous Doctor and dozens of other parties related to Murphy’s care at the facility. The first three pages of the complaint named the parties in the case, but an IDOI clerk failed to scan the second page of defendants, which included the name of the doctor. As a result, the doctor was never informed of the proposed complaint.

Meanwhile, negotiations over a tolling agreement for Stromblad’s proposed complaint and attempts to mediate the issues continued during the following year with many of the defendants, including some who were also on the missing second page. The creation of a medical review panel was postponed until after mediation.

One year passed before Stromblad raised questions about Anonymous Doctor’s counsel. At that point, the IDOI realized the mistake that had been made on its end, and Stromblad used a process server to serve Anonymous Doctor with the proposed complaint.

The doctor subsequently moved to dismiss the complaint under Indiana Trial Rule 41(E), arguing Stromblad had failed to ensure adequate service of process and her failure to prosecute had been unreasonable and had prejudiced him. The trial court granted Anonymous Doctor’s motion and dismissed Stromblad’s complaint with prejudice, eventually denying her subsequent motion to correct error.

Reversing that decision, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found that because Stromblad’s proposed complaint had not been considered by a medical review panel, the trial court was limited in the actions it could take at this point in the proceedings.

“We find that the (Medical Malpractice) Act explicitly restricts a trial court’s ability to act on a proposed complaint before a medical review panel has issued an opinion on a proposed complaint. Because Anonymous Doctor, and not the (IDOI) commissioner, sought a dismissal under Trial Rule 41(E), the trial court did not have the statutory authority to grant the requested relief under the Act,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the COA.

“Given the specific statutory provisions of the Act, the trial court erroneously granted Anonymous Doctor’s Trial Rule 41(E) motion to dismiss. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s order dismissing Stromblad’s trial court complaint and remand for further proceedings consistent with the Act,” Pyle concluded.

The case is Jamiee L. Stromblad, as Guardian of Person and Estate of John T. Murphy v. Anonymous Doctor No. 1, 21A-CT-855.

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