In its decision filed on November 10, 2014, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Appeals Court”) held that the standard of care for doctors practicing in prisons is the same as the standard of care for doctors practicing outside of prisons, while acknowledging that doctors in prisons sometimes will face difficulties that doctors practicing outside of prisons will not encounter and that it is possible when determining whether a doctor has breached the standard of care that the finder of fact can take into account security and budget concerns facing prison doctors.
In 1992, the Indiana Supreme Court did away with the “locality rule” in Indiana medical malpractice cases and stated that physicians must exercise that degree of care, skill, and proficiency exercised by reasonably careful, skillful, and prudent practitioners in the same class to which they belong, acting under the same or similar circumstances (locality is only one factor to be considered, along with advances in the profession, availability of activities, and whether the doctor is a specialist or general practitioner).
The Appeals Court stated, “we recognize that medical care in the DOC involves additional considerations not present in a hospital or general care facility. However, we cannot find that physicians practicing in prisons may deviate from the standard of care without reasonable, articulable concerns. In short, we do not find that physicians practicing in prisons may determine the standard of care based on the circumstances and concerns facing them with regard to individual patients, especially when such concerns remain vague and nebulous. To do so would be to empower prison physicians to determine for themselves what standard of care should apply based on each individual case, a practice we will not endorse.”
The Appeals Court therefore reversed the summary judgment granted in favor of the defendant prison doctors by the trial judge because the trial judge erred when he determined that physicians who provide medical care to incarcerated persons are subject to a different, lower standard of care and further found that the plaintiff’s medical expert was unqualified to testify because he was unfamiliar with the standard of care for physicians practicing in prisons.
The Appeals Court held that the plaintiff’s medical expert was qualified to testify as an expert, and because the expert’s opinion rebutted the Indiana medical review board that had found that the defendant prison doctors did not breach their standard of care and that the plaintiff’s damages were not causally linked to the care the defendant prison doctors provided to the plaintiff, granting summary judgment to the defendants was inappropriate in this case.
Source Christa Allen v. Richard Hinchman, M.D., Richard Tanner, M.D., and Jeffrey Smith, M.D., No. 49A02-1311-PL-975.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or other harms as a result of medical malpractice that occurred in a prison, you should promptly consult with a prison malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your prison medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a prison medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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