Justices to hear certified questions in medical malpractice case

Two certified questions from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act and Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund will be discussed next week during arguments before the Indiana Supreme Court.

Indiana justices accepted the certified questions stemming from Jeffrey Cutchin v. Stephen Robertson20-1437. The high court in February accepted the questions and invited and accepted briefs in the case.

Oral arguments will be at 9 a.m. May 20 in the Supreme Court courtroom at the Indiana Statehouse.

Jeffrey Cutchin brought claims against Sylvia Watson after she ran a red light and struck his vehicle, killing his wife and daughter. Watson – who also died in the crash – had told her passenger just before the accident that she could not move her foot from the accelerator to the brake. She had taken two prescription pills prior to the crash and had been prescribed about eight medications total, including an opioid and muscle relaxers.

Cutchin subsequently filed a medical malpractice complaint against the two doctors who had prescribed the pills to Watson, alleging they failed to warn her against driving. The providers and their malpractice insurer settled for $250,000, the maximum under the Indiana MMA, and Cutchin pursued further relief from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which acts as an excess insurer.

However, the fund claimed the MMA did not apply to Cutchin’s claim and that he was barred from seeking excess damages. The Indiana Southern District Court agreed, and the 7th Circuit found important state law questions presented that were dispositive of the case and likely to recur. It submitted its certified questions to the Indiana Supreme Court after noting that existing Indiana case law sends conflicting signals.

Questions posed before the high court include:

  • Whether Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act prohibits the Patient’s Compensation Fund from contesting the act’s applicability to a claim after the claimant concludes a court-approved settlement with a covered health care provider.
  • Whether Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act applies to claims brought against qualified health care providers for individuals who did not receive medical care from the provider, but who are injured as a result of the provider’s negligence in providing medical treatment to someone else.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, access to the Supreme Court courtroom will be limited to justices, court personnel, and no more than two attorneys per arguing party.

Others interested in watching the argument may do so remotely or view the live webcast.

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