Parents fail to sway COA in medical malpractice case over infant son’s death

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Parents who sued several health care providers that treated their infant son just days before his death did not sway the Court of Appeals of Indiana to rule in their favor, as the judges concluded that a medical review panel’s process must wrap up before their claims can be adjudicated.

A few months after his birth, in 2015, Dylan Woodcox was admitted to a South Bend hospital with symptoms of respiratory distress. Dylan, who faced numerous medical challenges since birth, had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition and was fed through a nasogastric tube.

Once he arrived at the hospital, the child was placed in a cardiac intensive care unit. Hospital staff spoke with Dylan’s mother, Elizabeth Woodcox, about her son’s medical history. Both Elizabeth and Dylan’s father, Darren Woodcox, served as Dylan’s legal guardians for purposes of consenting to proposed treatments.

Dylan’s treatment team, including Anonymous M.D., decided to replace Dylan’s nasogastric tube with a more intrusive nasal jejunal tube, which was administered by Anonymous R.N.  The baby died two days later allegedly due to the perforation and resulting sepsis, despite later surgical intervention at the hospital.

The Woodcoxes alleged that the R.N. incorrectly placed the NJ tube, perforating their son’s intestines, among other things. Their medical malpractice suit is currently before a medical review panel, which has yet to issue a decision, according to the appellate court.

By Dec. 15, 2020, the Woodcoxes filed a second amended proposed complaint raising claims of medical malpractice and battery, as well as a request for declaratory judgment.

The R.N., who was eventually removed from the Woodcoxes suit, filed with the trial court a joint petition for preliminary determination of law and motion for summary judgment. The parents responded by filing a “Counter-Claim for Declaratory Judgment, Battery, and Medical Malpractice,” along with a cross-motion for preliminary determination, summary judgment and declaratory judgment.

The Marion Superior Court granted R.N.’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the Woodcoxes’ claims against her. Then in a separate order, the court denied the Woodcoxes’ motion for summary judgment and declaratory judgment and dismissed without prejudice their claims for declaratory judgment, battery and medical malpractice.

Further, the court denied as moot the providers’ motion to strike and concluded that “… there is no just reason for delay and expressly directs entry of Final Judgment, without prejudice . . . against Darren and Elizabeth Woodcox… .”

A Court of Appeals of Indiana panel affirmed in Darren Woodcox and Elizabeth Woodcox, as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Dylan Woodcox v. Anonymous Hospital, Anonymous M.D., and Anonymous N.P., 21A-CT-1565, finding that the trial court didn’t err in denying the Woodcoxes’ motion for summary judgment and declaratory judgment.

It disagreed with the providers’ argument that dismissal was necessary, concluding that the appropriate procedure was followed under Trial Rule 56(C).

However, it also disagreed with the Woodcoxes on their argument that their motion for summary judgment and declaratory relief was proper and should have prevailed because the battery claim falls outside of the medical review panel process.

“Based on Indiana Supreme Court precedent, we cannot agree that their motion was a permissible use of the preliminary question of law procedure,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote, likening the case to Griffith v. Jones, 602 N.E.2d 107 (Ind. 1992).

The COA found that the trial court did not err in denying the Woodcoxes’ motion for summary judgment and declaratory judgment because the court lacked jurisdiction to address their issues. It also noted that even if the petition for preliminary determination of law or fact was appropriate, the Woodcoxes would not prevail because their battery claim is essentially a matter for the medical review panel to address.

“The Woodcoxes’ alleged damages arising from their claims of medical malpractice and battery are identical, providing an additional reason to conclude that they both fall under the Review Panel’s jurisdiction,”  Friedlander wrote. “The trial court did not err in denying the Woodcoxes’ motion for summary judgment and declaratory judgment. In addition, the court did not err in dismissing the Woodcoxes’ claims on the merits. We express no opinion on the merits of the Woodcoxes’ claims, but the Review Panel’s process must proceed to its conclusion before the trial court may adjudicate those claims.”

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