The Indiana Supreme Court held in its written opinion filed on March 10, 2014 that the commencement of a medical malpractice action occurs when a copy of the proposed complaint is deposited for mailing by registered or certified mail or by certain private delivery services, and that the plaintiff’s action was timely filed in the case it was deciding. The Indiana Supreme Court’s decision overturned both the trial court and the lower appellate court’s decisions in the case.
Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1, which defines compliance with requirements that matters be sent by registered or certified mail, provides that: If a statute enacted by the general assembly or a rule . . . requires that notice or other matter be given or sent by registered mail or certified mail, a person may use: (1) any service of the United States Postal Service [“USPS”] or any service of a designated private delivery service (as defined by the United States Internal Revenue Service [“IRS”]) that: (A) track delivery of mail; and (B) requires a signature upon delivery … (The General Assembly amended section 1-1-7-1 in 2007 to extend compliance to mailing through certain private delivery services; before 2007, Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1 required mailing through the United States Postal Service only.)
In Indiana medical malpractice cases, Indiana law requires a preliminary submission of the proposed complaint to the Indiana Department of Insurance (Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b) (2012)) and states that filing is complete “when a copy of the proposed complaint is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail.” However, this statutory provision lacks an express provision for sending by third-party couriers, unlike Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1. Therefore, the medical malpractice defendants argued (and the trial court and lower appellate court agreed) that the plaintiff’s medical malpractice case was not filed when delivered to FedEx for delivery but rather when received.
The Indiana Supreme Court stated that when two statutes on the same subject must be construed together, a court should attempt to give effect to both and must attempt to harmonize any inconsistencies or conflicts before applying any other rule of statutory construction. The Indiana Supreme Court stated that Indiana Code section 34-18-7-3(b) addresses how and when a proposed complaint may be filed, not how and when to provide notice — that Code section also does not require filing by registered or certified mail; whereas Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1 clearly expresses its intent that any “designated private delivery service”—such as FedEx—that meets certain qualifications be equated with “registered or certified mail,” which expressly supersedes all code sections that require “notice or other matter” sent by registered or certified mail.
The Indiana Supreme Court held that to the extent Indiana Code section 34-18-7-3 considers the filing date to be the mailing date, it requires that such mailing be through registered or certified mail. Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1 and 34-18-7-3(b) intersect on the same subject. Harmonizing the uncertainties raised by the defendants, the Indiana Supreme Court held that a proposed medical malpractice complaint is filed upon mailing with a designated private delivery service—as well as the USPS—so long as it satisfies Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1. (“We see no substantive difference between a proposed medical malpractice complaint mailed via FedEx Priority Overnight, tracking and return receipt requested, and a proposed complaint mailed via USPS registered and certified mail. And neither does the Indiana General Assembly, as evident by their adoption of Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1.”)
Bonnie Moryl, as Surviving Spouse and Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard A. Moryl v. Carey B. Ransone, M.D., et al., No. 46S04-1403-CT-149. Click here to read the opinion.
One question that confounds us: why did the plaintiff’s lawyer wait until the last moment to file the medical malpractice claim, risking the result in both the trial court and in the lower appellate court?
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with an Indiana medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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