Supreme Court accepts certified questions from 7th Circuit in med-mal case

The Indiana Supreme Court has scheduled arguments and is accepting briefs in a case involving certified questions from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressing the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act and Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund.

The justices on Friday accepted two questions from the federal circuit court:

  • 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.

Oral arguments on those certified questions will be held May 20. Principal briefs are due April 1.

The questions come from the case of Jeffrey B. Cutchin, as Personal Representative of the Estates of Claudine D. Cutchin and Adelaide E. Cutchin v. Stephen W. Robertson, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Insurance, Administrator of the Indiana Patient Compensation’s Fund, 20-1437 and 21S-CQ-48.

The case involves claims brought by Jeffrey Cutchin, whose wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident after another driver, Sylvia Watson, ran a red light and struck the Cutchins’ vehicle.

Watson – who also died – had told her passenger just before the crash that she could not move her foot from the accelerator to the brake. She had taken two prescription pills prior to the accident and had been prescribed some eight medications total, including an opioid and muscle relaxers.

Cutchin filed a medical malpractice complaint against the two doctors who had prescribed the pills to Watson, alleging they failed to warn her that she should not drive. A maximum settlement of $250,000 was reached under the Indiana MMA, and Cutchin sought further relief from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which acts as an excess insurer.

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 upheld that ruling, and when the case was appealed to the 7th Circuit, the appellate panel submitted its certified questions to the Indiana Supreme Court.

“The viability of Cutchin’s claim turns exclusively on Indiana law as established by both the terms of the MMA and the Indiana cases interpreting those terms. It is important to the courts and citizens of Indiana that the questions presented be answered authoritatively,” the 7th Circuit wrote in February.

The parties’ principal briefs may not exceed the greater of 20 pages of 9,000 words. Response briefs, which are due April 20, may not exceed the greater of 10 pages or 4,200 words.

Any appendix is also due April 1, though “all necessary legal arguments should be presented to this Court in the briefs … .” “If the parties believe there are documents from the Seventh Circuit case necessary or helpful for deciding the certified questions, then the parties shall confer and agree on the materials to be included and file a joint appendix containing copies of those documents … ,” according to the Friday order signed by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush.

Extensions of time must be requested jointly and will only be granted in “truly extraordinary circumstances.”

Finally, motions for leave to appear as amicus and proposed amicus briefs are due on or before April 1. Joint briefs are encouraged, and any amicus brief must be no more than 10 pages or 4,200 words.

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