On May 3, 2012, the attorneys for the parties in a medical malpractice case on appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court argued their respective sides in a case that may ultimately lead to the determination of whether Indiana’s cap (limit) on damages in medical malpractice cases is constitutional at this time. A decision is expected soon. The case is captioned Timothy W. Plank v. Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc., Case Number: 49 S 04-1203-CT-00135.
The parties had appealed from a decision by the Court of Appeals of Indiana filed on October 25, 2011 that held, “We hold that Plank is entitled to an evidentiary hearing so that he can attempt to sustain his burden to prove that the statutory cap on medical malpractice awards under the Act is unconstitutional. Without a hearing, Plank has no means to satisfy his burden of proof. We need not address the merits of Plank’s constitutional challenge, which are not before us in this appeal.”
The Alleged Underlying Facts And The Medical Malpractice Jury Trial Result
Timothy W. Plank’s wife, Debra, had severe abdominal pain on November 7, 2001, and therefore she sought medical treatment at Community Hospital on that date and on two more occasions between November 7 and November 14, 2001, but doctors allegedly failed to diagnose a small bowel obstruction. As a result of the missed diagnosis, Debra contracted sepsis and died.
Mr. Plank filed a proposed complaint with the Department of Insurance against Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc. (“Community Hospital”) and three physicians. Prior to the medical malpractice trial, the three physicians were dismissed, leaving Community Hospital as the sole defendant. On September 3, 2009, a medical malpractice jury found in favor of Mr. Plank and awarded him $8.5 million in damages.
Shortly after the verdict was delivered, Community Hospital moved to reduce the award to the amount of the statutory cap, $1.25 million, pursuant to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, Indiana Code Section 34-18-14-3 (“the Act”), which states in relevant part “(a) The total amount recoverable for an injury or death of a patient may not exceed . . . (3) One million two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($1,250,000) for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 1999.”
The trial judge reduced the jury’s verdict and Mr. Plank filed a written objection to the reduction, alleging that the Act violates the Indiana Constitution and requested an evidentiary hearing to pursue his constitutional challenge. The trial court judge denied Mr. Plank’s request for an evidentiary hearing and entered judgment in favor of Mr. Plank in the amount of $1.25 million.
Mr. Plank’s Appeal To The Court Of Appeals Of Indiana
Mr. Plank filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Court of Appeals”) in which he raised the issue whether the trial court erred when it denied his request for an evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of the statutory cap on medical malpractice awards under Indiana Code Section 34-18-14-3.
In deciding the appeal, the Court of Appeals referenced the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in an earlier constitutional challenge to the Act in which the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the medical malpractice cap as constitutional in which it stated, “a great deal of proof descriptive of the conditions in the health care and insurance industries which gave rise to the Act was brought forth and developed at a trial for constitutional purposes … According to the Legislature’s appraisal, these conditions implicated the vital interests of the community in the availability of the professional services of physicians and other health care providers. The Legislature responded with this Act in an effort to preserve those services and thereby to protect the public health and wellbeing of the community. It reflects a specific legislative judgment that a causal relationship existed at the time between the settlement and prosecution of malpractice claims against health care providers and the actual and threatened diminution of health care services.” Johnson v. St. Vincent Hospital, 273 Ind. 374, 404 N.E.2d 585 (1980).
The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court judge in Mr. Plank’s case incorrectly held that he did not have the authority to revisit the constitutionality of the statutory cap in light of the Johnson case. The Court of Appeals noted that “our Supreme Court has declared both that a determination of constitutionality under Section 23 [Article I, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution] can be revisited and that the challenging party has the burden to prove that changes in circumstances require reversal of existing case law.”
The Court of Appeals held that prior decisions by the Indiana Supreme Court “has directed us to our conclusion that Plank is entitled to an evidentiary hearing … We hold that Plank is entitled to an evidentiary hearing so that he can attempt to sustain his burden to prove that the statutory cap on medical malpractice awards under the Act is unconstitutional. Without a hearing, Plank has no means to satisfy his burden of proof. We need not address the merits of Plank’s constitutional challenge, which are not before us in this appeal.”
Source: Timothy W. Plank v. Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc.,Case Number 49A04-1004-CT-254.
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