September 1, 2013

162017_132140396847214_292624_nOn August 8, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court revived a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a woman who was injured as result of a car collision that named as the medical malpractice defendant the personal physician of the other woman who had caused the serious, head-on collision (“the tortfeasor”). The car collision happened on November 27, 2006 when the tortfeasor negligently drove her car head-on into the plaintiff’s motor vehicle, thereby causing the plaintiff to suffer permanent debilitating injuries that required her to endure extensive hospitalization.

At the scene of the collision, the plaintiff heard the tortfeasor say that she “should not be driving because of her medical condition.” Sometime later, the tortfeasor’s physician wrote an undated letter to the prosecutor’s office (apparently the tortfeasor was criminally charged as a result of the collision) in which he stated that the tortfeasor’s multiple medical conditions, combined with the medications that he had prescribed for her, may have contributed to the collision.

Upon learning of the physician’s letter, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice complaint against the tortfeasor’s physician and his medical practice, alleging that the physician was medically negligent in failing to warn the tortfeasor not to drive while taking her medication. The medical malpractice claim was filed four days after the statute of limitations would have expired if the date when the tortfeasor last visited her physician (six days before the collision) was the date on which the statute of limitations began to run (Indiana law requires that the claim be commenced within two years from the date of the allegedly negligent act, omission, or neglect (Ind. Code § 34-18-7-1(b)). The medical malpractice defendants filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the plaintiff’s malpractice claim was filed too late, which the trial court granted.

On appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment because there are genuine issues of fact as to the trigger date of the plaintiff’s malpractice claim and whether or not it was reasonably possible for her to present her claim in the time remaining after discovery and before the end of the statutory period. The Indiana Supreme Court stated that in order for the date to be triggered, a plaintiff must be aware of facts that, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should lead to the discovery of the malpractice and the resulting injury.

The defendants argued that the running of the statutory limitation period was triggered when the plaintiff overheard the tortfeasor state at the scene of the collision that she should not be driving because of her medical condition, which the Indiana Supreme Court noted “could suggest a bevy of possibilities wholly unrelated to and not reasonably suggestive of a doctor’s failure to warn about side effects of prescribed medication.” The plaintiff argued that the running of the statutory limitation period was triggered on the date the plaintiff received a copy of the physician’s letter to the prosecuting attorney regarding the tortfeasor’s medical conditions and medications combining to cause the collision.

The Indiana Supreme Court noted that because the physician’s letter was undated, it is unknown on what date the letter came to the attention of the plaintiff and therefore it was indiscernible whether the plaintiff could have pursued her malpractice claim within the two-year statutory limit, or, if not, whether she acted within a reasonable time. Therefore, the Indiana Supreme Court held that there exists an issue of fact material to a theory that avoids the statute of limitations defense and that factual issues relating to the running of the limitation period, such as the date on which the plaintiff first learns of the injury, are to be resolved by the trier of fact at trial.

The Indiana Supreme Court stated, “Because we must construe the facts favorably to the plaintiffs as the non-moving party, we conclude that [the plaintiff] overhearing [the tortfeasor’s] accident-scene remark is insufficient to conclusively establish the trigger date for the limitation period of the Medical Malpractice Act and that there remains a genuine issue of material fact as to both the trigger date and, if within the two-year limitation period, whether the plaintiffs filed their complaint within a reasonable time. The defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on their statute of limitation defense.”

Source Mary Alice Manley and Gary Manley v. Ryan J. Sherer, M.D. and Sherer Family Medicine, P.C., No. 59S01-1205-PL-249.

If you or a loved one have been injured or suffered other harms as a result of possible medical negligence in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of an Indiana medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice lawsuit on your behalf, if appropriate.

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