In its opinion dated December 15, 2021, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) revived an Indiana medical malpractice complaint that the trial court had dismissed.
The Underlying Facts
Plaintiff Stromblad filed her proposed Indiana medical malpractice complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance (“IDOI”) and simultaneously commenced an action in the trial court, which is permitted by INDIANA CODE § 34-18-8-7. This section prohibited Stromblad from identifying the physician in her trial court complaint or pursuing the case in the trial court until an opinion was issued by the medical review panel. In addition, except in certain circumstances, the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (“Act”) prohibits the trial court from taking any action in the case before the medical review panel issues an opinion on Stromblad’s proposed complaint. I.C. § 34-18-8-4.
Under the Act, there are three ways under which a trial court can grant the relief requested when a medical review panel has yet to issue an opinion: First, Indiana Code section 34-18-11-1(a) states that a trial court has the power to preliminarily determine an affirmative defense or issue of law or fact that may be preliminarily determined under the Indiana Rules of Procedure and compel discovery in accordance with the Indiana Rules of Procedure. This grant of authority is limited to deciding issues of law or fact that may be preliminarily determined under Trial Rule 12(D), and compelling discovery pursuant to Trial Rules 26 through 37, inclusively. Second, Indiana Code section 34-18-8-8 permits the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Insurance, on the Commissioner’s own motion or on the motion of a party, to file a motion in Marion county circuit court to dismiss the case under Rule 41(E) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure if action has not been taken on the case for at least two years. Third, a trial court can grant relief under Indiana Code section 34-18-10-14,
The Underlying Facts
In August 2020, roughly one year after Stromblad had filed her proposed Indiana medical malpractice complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance (“IDOI”) and the trial court, Stromblad’s counsel’s paralegal phoned the IDOI to inquire about Anonymous Doctor’s counsel. During this phone conversation, the clerk at the IDOI realized that the second page of the proposed complaint had not been scanned, and, consequently, the IDOI had not informed Anonymous Doctor of the proposed complaint. Three days later, Stromblad, in an effort to rectify IDOI’s error, used a process server to serve Anonymous Doctor with the proposed complaint filed with the IDOI and the complaint filed in the trial court.
In September 2020, counsel for Anonymous Doctor entered an appearance in the trial court. In November 2020, Anonymous Doctor filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Trial Rule 41(E). Anonymous Doctor argued that the case should be dismissed for a failure to prosecute because: (1) Stromblad had failed to ensure adequate service of process; and (2) Stromblad’s failure to prosecute had been unreasonable and had prejudiced Anonymous Doctor. Stromblad responded by filing a motion to hold Anonymous Doctor’s motion to dismiss in abeyance. Stromblad argued that the case should not be dismissed until a medical review panel had issued its opinion. Stromblad also noted that mediation had been held in September 2020 with some of the other defendants.
In February 2021, the trial court held a hearing on Anonymous Doctor’s motion to dismiss and granted the motion. Stromblad subsequently appealed.
The Indiana Appellate Court held: “We find that the [Medical Malpractice] Act explicitly restricts a trial court’s ability to act on a proposed complaint before a medical review panel has issued an opinion on a proposed complaint. Because Anonymous Doctor, and not the commissioner, sought a dismissal under Trial Rule 41(E), the trial court did not have the statutory authority to grant the requested relief under the Act. Given the specific statutory provisions of the Act, the trial court erroneously granted Anonymous Doctor’s Trial Rule 41(E) motion to dismiss. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s order dismissing Stromblad’s trial court complaint and remand for further proceedings consistent with the Act.”
Source Stromblad v. Anonymous Doctor No. 1, No. 21A-CT-855.
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