The Indiana Supreme Court, in its opinion filed on June 30, 2021, held: “the [Indiana Medical Malpractice] Act applies where a plaintiff alleges that a qualified health-care provider’s negligent treatment of someone else caused the plaintiff to suffer an injury.”
In 2017, Sylvia Watson, age 72, and her adult granddaughter picked up Watson’s car from a repair shop. Before they left the shop, the granddaughter saw Watson swallow two pills from a prescription bottle. Later, Watson approached an intersection with a red light but could not lift her foot from the accelerator, saying “I can’t stop.” Watson ran the light and crashed into another vehicle. Watson died from injuries sustained in the crash and the other driver, Claudine Cutchin, and her daughter, Adelaide, also died, but Watson’s granddaughter avoided serious injury. A blood test showed Watson’s system contained opiates, which had been prescribed by a physician who had treated Watson at a medical clinic for many years and had prescribed her at least eight different medications.
In 2018, Jeffrey Cutchin, the husband and father of decedents Claudine and Adelaide, respectively, filed a proposed complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance against the physician and the medical clinic under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act. At the same time, Cutchin filed a civil action in the Southern District of Indiana under its diversity jurisdiction alleging medical malpractice.
The Indiana Supreme Court stated that the issue was whether the Act applies to a third party who did not receive medical care from a qualified health-care provider but who was injured by the provider’s negligence in treating someone else. The Indiana Supreme Court held that based on the Act’s definition of “patient,” the answer was in the affirmative.
The Act says that a “patient” means an individual who receives or should have received health care from a health care provider, under a contract, express or implied, and includes a person having a claim of any kind, whether derivative or otherwise, as a result of alleged malpractice on the part of a health care provider. Derivative claims include the claim of a parent or parents, guardian, trustee, child, relative, attorney, or any other representative of the patient including claims for loss of services, loss of consortium, expenses, and other similar claims. § 34-18-2-22.
The Indiana Supreme Court stated: “Based on this provision’s text and structure, we hold that a statutory “patient”—an eligible claimant under the Act—falls into either of two categories. The first category is a traditional patient, i.e., one with a physician-patient relationship with a health-care provider: “an individual who receives or should have received health care from a health care provider, under a contract, express or implied”. Id. The other category is a third party with a claim against a health-care provider under state law: “a person having a claim of any kind, whether derivative or otherwise, as a result of alleged malpractice on the part of a health care provider.” Id. This latter category refers to a third party whose claim results from a provider’s malpractice to someone in the first category, namely, a traditional patient. Here, Cutchin is not a traditional patient because he has no patient-provider relationship with either Physician or Clinic. But he is nevertheless a statutory “patient” because he has a wrongful-death claim resulting from Physician’s and Clinic’s alleged malpractice to Watson, who is their traditional patient.”
Source Cutchin v. Beard, Supreme Court Case No. 21S-CQ-48.
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