Appellate judges rule for hospital in medical malpractice case

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A man who filed a medical malpractice claim against a doctor and hospital following his surgery for a herniated disc could not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that he should be permitted to amend his complaint and add a federal claim.

In 2012, Robert Williams visited the St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center emergency room after experiencing pain and numbness in his lower back, left buttock, legs, groin, genitals, and perianal area. Following an MRI and examination, Dr. Gavin Inglis determined Williams had a central disc extrusion with central spinal stenosis and muscle strain.

Inglis discharged Williams with instructions to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon in two or three days and prescribed steroids, pain medication and muscle relaxants. Inglis also told Williams to return to the ER if the pain worsened, and Williams returned a few days later. At that point, Williams arranged to have a neurosurgical consult and was subsequently admitted to the hospital for a laminectomy and discectomy.

Williams later filed a medical malpractice complaint against Inglis, the hospital and St. Vincent Emergency Physicians, alleging in part that he had failed to obtain a neurosurgical consult prior to discharging him from the ER during his first visit. Three years later, a unanimous medical review panel concluded the evidence did not support that the defendants had failed to meet the standard of care and that “the conduct complained of was not a factor of [Williams’] resultant damages.”

In response, Williams successfully filed a motion to amend his trial court complaint to identify the anonymous defendants. He also sought to add a federal claim under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, but was denied. The Marion Superior Court eventually granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment on the medical malpractice claim but denied summary judgment to the hospital on Williams’ respondeat superior claim.

Williams appealed in Robert L Williams v. Gavin H. Inglis, M.D., and St. Vincent Hospital and Health Center, 19A-CT-1438, arguing the trial court erred by denying his motion to amend and by granting partial summary judgment to the hospital.

In affirming the trial court, however, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Williams’ argument that the EMTALA was tolled because the State Medical Malpractice Act “prohibited” him from filing an EMTALA claim until after the medical review panel had rendered an opinion on his medical malpractice complaint before the Indiana Department of Insurance.

The panel further concluded Williams’ additional arguments that the trial court should have allowed him to forego the EMTALA statute of limitations and include that claim in his original complaint “have not stuck the desired procedural landing.”

“Here, Williams attempted to file an EMTALA claim on December 18, 2017, which was more than two years after the date of the alleged violation of EMTALA on December 2, 2012. Thus, Williams’ EMTALA claim was barred by EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations. Because his proposed amendment to add this claim would have been futile, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Williams’ motion to amend his complaint,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the appellate court.

Additionally, the appellate court declined to address Williams’ argument that there are material questions of fact regarding whether a violation of EMTALA occurred, among other things.

In support of its decision, the appellate panel noted the trial court found there was “no EMTALA claim contained in [Williams’] Amended Complaint” and that any “argument regarding EMTALA and his claim for negligence per se is MOOT as there is no such claim for the Court to consider.”

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