The Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on December 18, 2020 that the medical malpractice plaintiff “presented sufficient evidence regarding the applicable standard of care to defeat [defendant] Dr. Majd’s motion for judgment on the evidence. Dr. Sexton [plaintiff’s expert] demonstrated familiarity with the procedures Dr. Majd performed on Scholl and identified several aspects of Dr. Majd’s treatment of Scholl that Dr. Sexton believed fell below the standard of care. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s entry of judgment on the evidence in favor of Dr. Majd, and we remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
In Indiana, to prevail on a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the physician owed a duty to the plaintiff; (2) the physician breached that duty; and (3) the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Generally, before a medical malpractice claim may proceed in trial court, the proposed complaint must be presented to a medical review panel and the panel must give its opinion. Ind. Code § 34-18-8-4. When the medical review panel renders an opinion adverse to the plaintiff, the plaintiff must present expert testimony at trial to establish: 1) the applicable standard of care required by Indiana law; 2) how the defendant doctor breached that standard of care; and 3) that the defendant doctor’s negligence in doing so was the proximate cause of the injuries complained of. To meet the standard of care, a physician must exercise that degree of care, skill, and proficiency exercised by reasonably careful, skillful, and prudent practitioners in the same class to which he belongs, acting under the same or similar circumstances.
The trial court had granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the evidence, finding that “Dr. Sexton did not articulate at any time [that] he’s familiar with the standard of care for the treatment and care of a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, never told us that he’s familiar with the standard of care, that further there is a standard of care that requires him to come into court and demonstrate that he has an accurate understanding of what that standard of care is. He did not do that.”
Indiana Appellate Court Opinion
The Indiana Appellate Court stated: “Dr. Sexton quoted a doctor from the medical review panel’s deposition testimony that the standard of care is “what a reasonably skilled doctor with reasonably skilled training would do in a given situation.” (Tr. Vol. II at 20.) While this was not a word-for-word recitation of the legal definition for standard of care, it demonstrates Dr. Sexton was at least somewhat familiar with the legal bar for what constitutes medical malpractice … Dr. Sexton was familiar with treating patients suffering from the same condition as the plaintiff, and Dr. Sexton had performed the same type of surgery Dr. Majd performed on Scholl and other similar spine surgeries. Thus, he could speak to what a reasonably skilled, careful, and prudent doctor would do and not do in treating a patient like Scholl. For example, he testified that a “prudent spine surgeon” would have performed a bone density test before the surgery.”
“Dr. Sexton also opined that the applicable standard of care required Dr. Majd to treat Scholl’s condition by performing a laminectomy rather than a fusion with hardware and that Scholl suffered nerve damage because Dr. Majd placed a screw too close to her iliac artery. While Dr. Sexton did describe the standard of care as “mythical” and something “each doctor decides . . . for himself or herself,” he clarified in his testimony that he was referring to the fact that the standard of care is not clearly defined in an authoritative source. (Id. at 20.) The standard of care is not “mythical,” but it leaves room for interpretation as we expect experts in a medical malpractice action to disagree about what the applicable standard of care requires in any given situation. Dr. Sexton’s comments were imprecise, but they do not show a lack of familiarity with the applicable standard of care. Therefore, we hold the trial court erred in granting Dr. Majd’s motion for a directed verdict, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Source Scholl v. Majd, Opinion 20A-CT-571.
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