Vigo County man not barred from vicarious liability suit against hospital

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday for a former hospital patient in an interlocutory appeal, finding the man is not barred from proceeding with his allegations of vicarious liability/physician negligence in his submission to be evaluated by a medical review panel.

Mason Spencer, who suffers from Pierre Robbins Syndrome, in May 2016 spent 25 days in Anonymous Hospital undergoing multiple procedures for a respiratory insufficiency and being cared for and treated by numerous individuals, including physicians.

He later filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint alleging that he developed bed sores, skin deterioration, a dislocated jaw, and suffered several other ailments and damages as a result of negligence and malpractice on the part of the Hospital.

After more than a year, Spencer tendered his medical review panel submission that included assertions of vicarious liability for the physicians who treated him, prompting the hospital to request a preliminary determination of law or definitive ruling from the Vigo Superior Court. It specifically requested that the trial court strike the allegations of vicarious liability, and except the conduct of any physicians from the medical review panel’s review because no physicians are named in the proposed complaint, nor were they identified during initial discovery, and the statute of limitations has expired.

After reviewing Indiana case law and initially granting the hospital’s petition, the trial court concluded that Spencer was precluded from proceeding with his vicarious liability claims. But it later changed course and granted Spencer’s motion to reconsider, concluding that current Indiana law does not preclude those claims from proceeding at the medical review panel stage.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed that the vicarious liability claims against the hospital may be presented to and considered by the medical review panel, affirming in a Thursday interlocutory appeal in the case of Anonymous Hospital v. Mason Spencer and Steve Robertson, Commissioner of The Indiana Dept. of Insurance, and Doug Hill, Medical Review Panel Chair, 20A-CT-393.

Reviewing the trial court’s determination de novo, the appellate court first considered the general theory of liability asserted by Spencer in his proposed complaint.

In this case, we agree with the trial court that, based upon these rulings, Spencer’s failure to name or identify any physicians individually prior to the running of the statute of limitations is not fatal to his vicarious liability claims against the Hospital. In other words, Spencer may proceed with his arguments and allegations of physician negligence/vicarious liability in his submission to the MRP even though those physicians are not named in the proposed complaint and are now individually immune from suit,” Judge Terry Crone wrote in the interlocutory appeal.

“We note that we are concerned, as is counsel for amicus curiae, the Indiana

Trial Lawyers Association, by the Hospital’s attempt to so severely, and we

think unjustifiably, limit Spencer’s claims against it before the case has even been presented to the MRP,” it continued.

“The Hospital waxes poetic about being prejudicially misled by what it characterizes as a ‘threadbare’ proposed complaint and ‘bait-and-switch’ initial discovery responses. We remind the Hospital that, in the words of Karen Carpenter, ‘We’ve only just begun.’ The Hospital has yet to even craft its own submission to the MRP, and it has ample notice and opportunity to respond to all alleged instances of negligence, physician or otherwise, presented by Spencer in his submission.”

Noting “there is still much to be sorted out if and when this case finds its way to a courtroom,” the appellate court concluded that the trial court properly determined that Spencer is not barred from proceeding with his arguments and allegations of vicarious liability/physician negligence in his submission to be evaluated by the MRP.

Lastly, it concluded that Vigo Superior Court’s order denying the Hospital’s motion for preliminary determination of law and granting Spencer’s motion to reconsider is affirmed.

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