Derivative Emotional Distress Claim Not Allowed Under Med Mal Act

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a father may not bring a derivative claim for emotional distress under the Medical Malpractice Act because such a claim is not allowable under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute.

Gary Patrick sued, individually and as representative of his son’s estate, under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute for his son Christopher’s death after a hospital negligently discharged Christopher following an accident despite his complaints of pain.  Christopher later died of a ruptured colon as a result of the accident.  Mr. Patrick also brought a derivative claim under the Medical Malpractice Act for his own emotional distress.

Mr. Patrick settled with the defendants named in his claim, and then filed a petition with the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund for payment of excess damages.  The trial court, finding that the Adult Wrongful Death Statute applied to Mr. Patrick’s claim as a personal representative, awarded him damages for loss of love and companionship and other expenses.   Mr. Patrick was awarded an additional $600,000 for his emotional distress claim.

The Fund appealed Mr. Patrick’s award for his emotional distress claim, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Fund sought, and the Supreme Court granted, transfer.  Mr. Patrick argued that he was entitled to bring his emotional distress claim under the Medical Malpractice Act.  However, the Supreme Court held that the Medical Malpractice Act does not define “bodily injury” and held that requirement for bodily injury (or death) in the Medical Malpractice Act applies to the actual victim of the malpractice and does not apply to derivative claimants.

The Court further held that their decision in Chamberlain v. Walpole, 822 N.E.2nd 959, dictates that Mr. Patrick cannot seek damages for emotional distress in this case.   Justice Sullivan wrote that the Medical Malpractice Act serves as a procedural mechanism for claims of medical malpractice, and a derivative claimant can only pursue claims allowed at common law or under applicable statutes.  The Act does not create new causes of action that don’t otherwise exist, so whether Mr. Patrick has a claim for emotional distress depends on the Adult Wrongful Death Statute.  And, because claims for emotional distress are not allowed under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute, Mr. Patrick is not entitled to bring his derivative claim under the Medical Malpractice Act.

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