Split COA affirms denial of claim against hospital in case tied to killing

The widow of a man who was killed by his grandson after numerous mental health treatments lost an appeal of a ruling against her negligence claims against health care providers Monday.

The case of Betty Miller, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of John Allen Miller v. Laxeshkumar Patel, M.D., et al., 20A-CT-1088, involves Betty Miller’s grandson, Zachary Miller, who had been treated at least five times over a month for serious mental health issues before he went to the emergency room at Community Howard Regional Hospital “requesting to be admitted due to his ongoing mental illness and dangerous propensities, and … he was treated and discharged by hospital physicians and a physician’s assistant,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “… (A)fter his discharge, in the overnight hours of January 8-9, 2017, Zachary returned to the home of his grandparents, (Betty and John Miller), and killed John by beating him with a frying pan and cutting John’s wrists because he heard voices telling him to do so.”

Betty Miller sued numerous doctors and providers alleging negligent care, but the Marion Superior Court denied her motion to amend the complaint to add a claim against Community Health Network Inc., d/b/a Community Howard Regional Health Hospital and Community Howard Behavioral Health, and Community Howard Regional Health Inc. under 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd, the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

“On appeal, Miller contends that in denying her motion to amend, the trial court erred by relying on this court’s opinion in Williams v. Inglis, 142 N.E.3d 467 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020), trans. denied, which she asserts was incorrectly decided and is in need of reexamination. Finding that Williams was correctly decided, we find no error in the trial court’s denial of Miller’s motion to amend,” the majority, including Judge Rudolph Pyle III, held.

The issue was whether the motion to amend the complaint to add the parties was timely under EMTALA. The trial court ruled it was filed outside the federal statute’s two-year statute of limitations, and the COA majority agreed.

“We are sympathetic to Miller for the loss she suffered; however, we decline to disturb the dispositive holding in Williams that the ‘application of Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) would directly conflict with the EMTALA two-year statute of limitations’ and is ‘therefore preempted by EMTALA’ to the instant case,” Kirsch wrote.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas dissented. “I do not find that Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) ‘directly conflicts with’ the EMTALA two-year statute of limitations. 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd(f). It is inconsistent to hold that Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) ‘directly conflicts with’ the EMTALA when federal courts have allowed relation back under the similar federal rule. Under the majority’s analysis and Williams, Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) and the equivalent federal rule would be rendered meaningless.

“… I find that the trial court misapplied the law. I conclude that the trial court incorrectly determined that EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations precluded Miller from amending the complaint,” Tavitas continued. “… Accordingly, I find that the relation back provision of Trial Rule 15(C) is not preempted by the EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations. I would remand for the trial court to determine whether the EMTALA claim in the amended complaint ‘arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading.’”

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