The Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled that a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can have a hearing to determine whether the Indiana cap on medical malpractice damages is unconstitutional. In Plank v. Community Hospital, the plaintiff obtained a jury verdict of $8.5 million relative to the death of his wife who died when the defendant’s doctors failed to diagnose a bowel obstruction. The obstruction caused the bowel to leak into the patient’s abdominal cavity causing a deadly infection. The Indiana Medical Malpractice Act limits damages to $1.25 million; so the trial judge reduced the $8.5 million verdict to $1.25 million.
The cap was implemented in 1975 and set at $500,000. Since then, it has been increased twice with the last time being in 1999 when it was set at $1.25 million. Opponents of raising the medical malpractice cap state that higher awards will lead to insurance companies refusing to cover doctors or to an increase in medical malpractice insurance premiums. These increases will lead to shortages of doctors in rural community hospitals who would not be able to afford the premiums. The premium increases could also lead doctors to stop performing higher-risk procedures. Opponents of raising the cap also say that these caps keep medical costs down, but medical costs have been rising steadily since 1999 despite these caps. Mr. Plank will attempt to present evidence that these assertions are wrong.
Proponents of raising the medical malpractice cap state that higher awards would allow victims to receive fair compensation for injuries. Many medical malpractice victims have life-altering injuries that require constant care and follow-up. Increasing this cap releases the burden on taxpayers who would most likely be stuck paying these bills. Because, after money from the malpractice case is gone, these injured patients often have to go on Medicaid or Medicare.
Mr. Plank will now be permitted to argue that the limits on damages are unconstitutional. This means that evidence must be presented to the trial court which will decide the constitutional issue; and that holding will be appealed either way, probably to the Indiana Supreme Court. Thus, a final decision on this issue will take a couple of years.