The Indiana Supreme Court revived a medical malpractice claim that the trial court had determined to have been filed too late under the relevant Indiana statute of limitations. The Indiana Supreme Court began its written opinion by stating, “In this case, the parties have spent five years disputing an issue which boils down to a seven-dollar fee paid three days late. The trial court found this delinquency fatal to the plaintiffs’ claim. We reverse … This case brings to mind Poor Richard’s well-known admonition: “For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the Enemy, all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.” Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac (U.S. Gov’t Printing Office, facsimile ed. 2006) (1758).”
The Underlying Facts
On April 3, 2006, two weeks after her cesarean section delivery and tubal ligation, an Indiana woman suffered a massive stroke that led to permanent injuries. On March 18, 2008, the woman’s medical malpractice lawyer mailed to the Indiana Department of Insurance by certified mail the proposed medical malpractice complaint but failed to include the $7.00 fee for the filing and processing of the proposed complaint. Nonetheless, the proposed complaint was file-stamped on March 18, 2008. The plaintiffs subsequently filed their complaint against the obstetrician and his medical practice in the Dearborn Superior Court on March 31, 2008.
The Indiana Department of Insurance (“Department”) discovered the failure to have received the $7.00 fee and mailed a letter on March 31, 2008 to the plaintiffs’ lawyer stating that the mandatory $7.00 fee needed to be sent within 30 days and that the complaint would “not be considered filed with the Department until the filing fees . . . [were] received.” The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice lawyer received the Department’s letter on Friday, April 4, 2008, and mailed his check for the necessary fee to the Department by first-class mail that same day. The Department received the attorney’s check on Monday (April 7, 2008) and re-file-stamped the proposed complaint April 7, 2008.
The medical malpractice defendants subsequently filed their motion for summary judgment, raising the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations (Ind. Code § 34-18-7-1: “A claim, whether in contract or tort, may not be brought against a health care provider based upon professional services or health care that was provided or that should have been provided unless the claim is filed within two (2) years after the date of the alleged act, omission, or neglect.”). The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiffs appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, where a divided panel reversed, finding that the plaintiffs’ proposed complaint was timely filed. The Indiana Supreme Court subsequently granted transfer and considered the parties’ arguments.
The Indiana Supreme Court noted that the parties agreed that April 4, 2008 was the final day of the statutory limitation period of the plaintiffs’ claim. In deciding the appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court stated, “According to the “Statute of Limitations” chapter of our Medical Malpractice Act, “a proposed complaint under IC 34-18-8 is considered filed when a copy of the proposed complaint is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail to the commissioner.” Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b). The Millers’ proposed complaint was mailed by certified mail on March 18, 2008. According to the statute, it is considered filed on that date. The statutory period did not expire until April 4, 2008. Thus, the Millers’ proposed complaint was timely filed with the Department … a proposed complaint is considered filed regardless of whether the required fees are submitted with it; the fees “accompany” the filed complaint, but they are not actually part of it. Second, Indiana law has long incorporated a strong preference for deciding cases on their merits rather than disposing of them via procedural technicalities … the actual filing of the lawsuit in the Dearborn Superior Court on March 31, 2008, was within the statute of limitations.”
If you may be the victim of medical malpractice in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the advice of an Indiana medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigation your medical malpractice claim for you and file a malpractice lawsuit on your behalf, if appropriate.
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