Compared with other injury-related legal claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking. That's true in every state, Indiana being no exception. Legal issues and medical evidence can get pretty complicated in these cases, and the plaintiff (the injured patient, or his or her legal representative) needs to understand the special procedural rules and compensation limits that come into play. In this article, we'll look at some key Indiana medical malpractice laws.
With some exceptions, you aren't allowed to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Indiana's civil court system without first getting an opinion on your case from a medical review panel. In order to start that process, you need to file a proposed complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance before the deadline for filing a lawsuit (discussed below).
After selection of the panel members (three health care professionals plus one attorney who will act as chairperson), you and the defendant (the health care provider you want to sue) will submit written evidence, such as relevant medical records and transcripts of depositions with medical experts and other witnesses. After reviewing the evidence, the panel will issue an opinion as to whether the evidence supports a conclusion that the defendant failed to meet the appropriate standard of care when treating you, if the defendant's actions were a factor in causing you harm, and, if so, whether (and to what extent) you were disabled or permanently impaired as a result. Or the panel's opinion might simply state that there are significant factual questions that a jury or judge should decide.
If you decide to go ahead with your court case after the review process is done, you must file a lawsuit within 90 days after receiving the panel's opinion. The panel's opinion may be admitted as evidence at the trial, but it won't be considered conclusive when it comes to the health care provider's liability or the nature and extent of your injuries.
You may avoid Indiana's medical-review requirement if:
Generally, once you've declared that you won't ask for damages over $15,000, you won't be able to receive more than that in a settlement or a court award after trial. But if, after you filed the lawsuit, you get new information revealing that your injuries are worse than you thought (requiring compensation over the $15,000 limit), you may file a motion to have your lawsuit dismissed and present a new proposed complaint for a medical panel review. In that case, you'll have an extra 180 days beyond the standard two-year deadline to file your proposed complaint.
This is a just quick summary of the process for a medical panel review in Indiana. You can find more information on the state's official page on medical review panels. And for even more detail, the laws discussed here are at Indiana Code §§ 34-18-7-1, 34-18-8-4 through 34-18-8-6, 34-18-10-17, 34-18-10-22, and 34-18-10-23 (which you can find by searching the Indiana Code on the Library of Congress Guide to Law Online).
A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a strict limit on the amount of time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after you have suffered some kind of harm or loss. If you miss the deadline, your case will probably be dismissed, putting an end to your chances of getting compensation for your losses.
Indiana has a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. Indiana Code section 34-18-7-1 says that you must file a medical malpractice claim within two years after the alleged medical error happened.
However, Indiana's courts have recognized that the statute of limitations might be extended in some cases when you can prove that you couldn't have discovered the defendant's alleged negligence and your resulting harm in time to file your complaint before the deadline. The length of the extension will depend on the "discovery date" (when you learned about the malpractice or learned facts that should have led you to discover it). If the discovery date came after the deadline had already passed, you'll typically have two years to file your complaint. But courts will only give you a "reasonable" amount of time to file if you discovered or should've discovered the malpractice shortly before the standard two-year deadline.
Patients who were younger than six years of age at the time of the alleged medical malpractice have until their eighth birthday to file a lawsuit. This is true even for newborns who were harmed by birth-related medical malpractice.
Once you file a proposed complaint for a medical panel review (which you must do before the two-year deadline), the statute of limitations for filing the lawsuit is paused. Then, if you decide to go ahead with the legal case after the review process is complete, you must file the lawsuit within 90 days after you receive the panel's opinion.
If have questions about how Indiana's statute of limitations and medical review requirements apply in your particular situation, you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can explain the ins and outs of these complicated laws. (And if you're worried about the cost, see the results of our survey on how—and how much—medical malpractice lawyers charge.)
Like a lot of states, Indiana has a law that limits or "caps" the amount of money that a plaintiff can receive even after a successful medical malpractice lawsuit against a negligent health care provider.
But unlike most other states with these laws, Indiana's "damage cap" applies to the total amount of compensation that an injured patient can recover—not just to certain categories like noneconomic damages (which include compensation for things like "pain and suffering").
Indiana has periodically raised the damages cap. In cases where the medical error happened between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019, the cap is $1.65 million. The limit is currently $1.8 million for cases where the malpractice occurred after June 30, 2019. (You can find the cap for earlier cases at Indiana Code § 34-18-14-3.)