Our Indiana Supreme Court recently reversed summary judgment against a hospital and a doctor allowing a patient’s medical malpractice case to go forward to trial.  In the recently issued decision, Siner v. Kindred Hosp. Ltd. Partnership, et al, No. 49S05-1604-CT-219, 2016 WL 1704317 (Ind. Apr. 28, 2016), the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s grants of summary judgment to the hospital and the doctor holding that conflicting evidence in the case must be resolved by a trier of fact — a jury.

Hospital would not honor request of patient’s family

In this medical malpractice case, the patient was admitted to the hospital for treatment of aspiration pneumonia.  The family instructed the doctor to classify the patient as “full code” so she would receive all life-sustaining therapies in the event of cardiac or pulmonary arrest.  The ethics committee of the hospital reviewed the family’s decision, noting that the patient’s condition was unlikely to improve, that the “greatest benefit with least burden was to make the patient a no code,” and that the family had “unrealistic expectations and strong religious beliefs.”  The committee ultimately overruled the family’s “full code” decision and changed the patient’s classification to “no code” so that she would not receive any life-sustaining therapies.  The family arranged for transfer of the patient to another hospital where the patient required immediate treatment for a collapsed lung, infection, and septic shock.  The patient died 20 days later.

The legal process for Indiana medical malpractice

In Indiana, a medical malpractice case must first be filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance to be reviewed by a medical review panel before the case is filed in state court.  In this case, the medical review panel issued a unanimous opinion “that the evidence supports the conclusion that the defendants failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care, and that their conduct may have been a factor of some resultant damages, but not the death of the patient.”  After the patient’s family filed the case in state court, the defendant hospital and defendant doctor separately moved for summary judgment.  Each defendant designated as evidence the above medical review panel opinion as well as an affidavit from one of the physician members of the medical review panel that said in his opinion the hospital and the doctor “did not cause injury” to the patient in managing her pulmonary care.

Indiana Supreme Court says plaintiffs can have day in court

In its ruling against the hospital and doctor and in favor of the plaintiff, the Indiana Supreme Court held that because the defendants’ own designated evidence conflicts with each other that summary judgment (which would end the patient’s case) would be inappropriate.  In other words, the Court found that the medical review panel opinion conflicted with the panel member’s affidavit.  When a conflict of evidence may exist on an important issue in a case, that evidence must be brought in front of a jury to make a final decision on the conflict of evidence.  As the Supreme Court explained: “A trier of fact [a jury] must decide whether the Siners’ evidence is persuasive, and we must leave that determination in its capable hands.”

This case will now be sent back to the trial court to reverse its grants of summary judgment to the hospital and doctor.  The case will now proceed to a jury trial where the patient’s family will finally have their day in court.