Indiana Medical Malpractice Damages Cap Challenged

The validity of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act is being challenged, and the Indiana Court of Appeals’ latest ruling has bloggers and news agencies talking. The ruling reverses a lower court decision by Judge Lou Rosenberg of Marion Circuit Court. In Timothy W. Plank v. Community Hospitals of Indiana and State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1004-CT-254, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined that plaintiff Timothy Plank, whose wife died because of a missed medical diagnosis, is entitled to an evidentiary hearing as to the constitutionality of Indiana’s statutory cap on medical malpractice awards. Mr. Plank received an $8.5 million jury verdict in his initial trial.

Mr. Plank’s attorney is John Muller, Partner at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy.

As we reported earlier on this blog
, Mr. Plank sued on behalf of his wife Debra. Ms. Plank experienced severe abdominal pain in November 2001 and presented to Community Hospital for care. Unfortunately, doctors failed to diagnosis a small bowel obstruction. As a result, Ms. Plank developed sepsis and subsequently died. Mr. Plank filed a complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance against the hospital and three physicians. The doctors were dismissed before the trial began; the case went ahead against Community Hospital and in September of 2009 and the jury found in the favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded $8.5 million in damages.

As expected, the hospital moved to reduce the amount of the award to the statutory limit of $1.25 million. Mr. Plank objected to this motion and requested an evidentiary hearing to pursue his constitutional challenge. Judge Rosenberg denied the request for a hearing. His decision was based a 1980 Supreme Court decision upholding the med mal cap.

In this month’s decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals did not determine the constitutionality of the act. Rather, the appellate panel determined that Mr. Plank has a right to a hearing at which he can present evidence to challenge the validity of the Act. Mr. Plank’s attorney, John Muller with Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy, argued that much has changed since the cap was put into place and it is no longer constitutional. The hospital and state argued that the cap cannot be reconsidered based on the fact that justices previously upheld its constitutionality.

As a result of this decision, the case returns to Marion Circuit Court. Judge Rosenberg is instructed to hold the evidentiary hearing and hear Plank’s constitutional challenges to the medical malpractice act.
Of course, patients and physicians are paying very close attention to this process and the final result of the court’s decisions. The conclusion of this process will have long-reaching implications in all future Medical Malpractice claims in Indiana. The Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury attorneys at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy are determined to see that the rights of injured people are protected.