Despite fact dispute, estate must sue psychiatric center under Med-Mal Act

Though there is a dispute about who initiated an altercation between a psychiatric patient and his care provider that led to the patient’s death, the factual dispute does not change an earlier Indiana Court of Appeals determination that a wrongful death claim brought by the patient’s estate is subject to the Medical Malpractice Act.

The Court of Appeals granted rehearing Thursday in Linda Martinez, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Roy Martinez v. Oaklawn Psychiatric Center, Inc., 18A-CT-2883, for the limited purpose of clarifying the factual dispute. The court affirmed its original July 12 decision in all other respects.

The Estate of Roy Martinez sued the Oaklawn Psychiatric Center after Martinez died from injuries sustained in an altercation with Kennedy Kafatia, a resident assistant. The altercation began when Martinez defied Kafatia’s order to go to bed, and Kafatia kicked him in the shin. Martinez suffered a leg injury, and the laceration led to his death.

The estate brought its case under the Wrongful Death Act, but the St. Joseph Superior Court granted Oaklawn’s motion to dismiss, finding the claims should have been raised under the Medical Malpractice Act. After hearing oral arguments in June, the COA unanimously upheld the dismissal in July.

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

“These facts and circumstances, together with the broadened scope of employment set forth in (Cox v.  Evansville Police Department, et al., 107 N.E.3d 453 (Ind. 2018)), place the incident and injuries squarely within the scope of the Medical Malpractice Act,” Mathias wrote.

But in a petition for rehearing, Martinez’s estate claimed there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Martinez or Kafatia was the initial aggressor. The appellate court agreed but said the dispute didn’t change its July ruling.

“We agree that this fact is disputed,” Mathias wrote Thursday, “however, it is not material to our conclusion that the Estate’s claim falls within the scope of the Medical Malpractice Act.

“Subject to this clarification,” he continued, “we affirm our opinion in all other respects.”

Kafatia was charged separately in the incident with criminal neglect of a dependent causing death. But according to the South Bend Tribune, a jury acquitted him in April.

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