Indiana’s Medical Malpractice System
In Indiana, seeking your day in court as a victim of medical malpractice isn’t as simple as filing a case.This is due to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, which creates a separate pre-trial proceeding called a medical review panel and puts caps on damages. This process is important to understand if you want to file a medical negligence claim in Indiana
What Does the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act Mean to Me?
In Indiana, most healthcare providers, including individual doctors and caregivers in private practice, doctor groups, and healthcare organizations like hospitals and nursing homes make annual contributions to the Indiana Department of Insurance. Paying these dues means the hospital, organization, or health care provider forces the injured patient to have a cap on damages and go through the review panel process. This allows the care provider and their insurance company to avoid fully paying for the damages they may have caused.
The act protects them through the caps that are placed on recovery of medical malpractice damages in Indiana.
- Recovery in cases that occurred after July 1, 2017 is limited to $1.65 million. The health care provider cannot be ordered to pay more than $400,000.
- Recovery in cases that occurred after July 1, 2019 is limited to $1.8 million.The health care provider cannot be ordered to pay more than $500,000.
The rest is paid by the Indiana Department of Insurance’s Patient’s Compensation Fund.
Health care providers are the only professionals with the option of this protection provided by law. Contractors, manufacturers, event venues, private companies, businesses, and most of all individuals are all fully accountable for their negligence if and when it does occur and lead to injury or death. But Indiana health care providers can and mostly do pay for special protection.
A second protection offered by the Medical Malpractice Act is that Indiana health care providers force patients to go through the medical review panel process. This process means the patient must present his or her case to a panel of three Indiana healthcare providers. This panel reviews the case and all presented evidence before the doors of the courthouse are open to the patient. This means the patient has to present evidence twice, once to the medical review panel and later to a jury of their peers. Unlike a jury trial, the panel doesn’t hear live witnesses who are cross-examined.
It is important to know that the decision of the review panel does not deny access to the courts. It simply makes the path to get there more lengthy and challenging for the potentially injured parties. Even if the healthcare providers aren’t fully qualified to give opinions, the decision of the medical review panel is still automatically admitted as evidence in any trial.
IDOI Medical Review Panel Basics
A medical review panel in Indiana takes place over four steps. The first is when the complaint is filed by the plaintiff’s attorney with the IDOI. This is the same thing which would be filed in court. The attorneys continue to ask questions and discover evidence while the panel is being formed, and up until the panel reviews the materials.
A neutral attorney, called a panel chair, is assigned to oversee the case and conduct of everyone involved. The panel chair then conducts a process to assign health care providers of the relevant specialty or specialties to the panel. If only one practice area, like a general practitioner, is involved, at least two of the three doctors on the panel would be general practitioners as well. In cases like birth negligence where different specialties and roles may be involved, the panel would include one of each specialty, up to three.
Presenting Evidence to Indiana Medical Review Panel
Once the panel doctors are chosen, it’s up to attorneys to submit evidence. Remember, the medical review panel does not hear live testimony. This means evidence submitted to the medical review panel will likely contain videos of testimony, pictures, medical records, deposition transcripts, and more. X-rays and other imaging, lab results, and expert testimony also play a role. Our attorneys have experience helping to obtain written records and other documentation that can support a case of Indiana medical negligence. Overall, part of any attorney’s job will be to create a written or video account of the health care provider’s failure to care.
When the medical review panel meets, the fourth and final step in the process, the review panel only considers if the caregiver’s conduct was up to professional standards. They don’t weigh in on the truth of evidence or make judgments outside basic medical safety rules. They only consider if they, as care providers, would have acted the same in the same situation and conditions. In some cases the review panel may not even come to a decision because the truth of how events transpired must be weighed by a jury before they can fully decide if negligence occurred. This is just one example of how no two cases are alike, and of how the medical review panel process may lead up to a court case.
Can You Still Sue for Malpractice if the Medical Review Panel Finds No Negligence?
The short answer is, yes. Even if the medical review panel does not agree there was negligence, a case can still be filed in court after the review process is complete. Once the opinion has been shared, the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning it stops running. This is important in cases where the review takes longer than 2 years, which is the statute of limitations for medical negligence cases in Indiana. Even in those situations the plaintiff will still have 90 days to decide what they want to do next. Then, the case must be taken to court once the decision is issued. The stamina that is required to build, defend, and successfully argue these cases is one reason an experienced Indiana medical malpractice attorney is essential to evaluating or filing a claim.
Indiana has established a cap on damages for medical malpractice, and defined even more complex rules about who must pay, and who can be compensated. It also creates a system where doctors tend to protect each other, because today’s review panel member could be tomorrow’s defendant.
At Christie Farrell Lee & Bell, we spend the years that are needed to advocate for our clients. Injured patients deserve to move on with peace of mind from the permanent effects of a healthcare provider’s negligence, even if all that means is knowing you have a partner with you in the fight ahead. Learn more about our Indiana medical malpractice attorneys and reach out to share your story if you have questions.