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 a few exception, no medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in Indiana's civil court system unless the patient files a complaint with a medical review panel, according to Indiana Code section 34-18-8-4.
The panel (typically one attorney and three health care providers) reviews all relevant medical records, hears testimony from witnesses, and considers all other appropriate evidence, according to Indiana Code section 34-18-10-3. Then, within 180 days the panel issues its opinion as to whether "the evidence supports the conclusion that the defendant or defendants failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care" when treating the complaining patient.
If the patient ends up filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, the panel's report is admissible in court, but it won't be considered conclusive when it comes to the health care provider's liability or the nature and extent of the patient's injuries.
This is a quick summary of the medical panel review process. Get more information (including details on an exception for cases seeking less than $15,000 in damages) from In.gov (the state's official website):
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.
Indiana has a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits, and it can be found at Indiana Code section 34-18-7-1, which gives a potential medical malpractice plaintiff two years to get their medical malpractice lawsuit started.
Usually the statute of limitations "clock" starts running on the date on which the alleged medical error was committed, but there may be an exception made in Indiana cases where the patient was not able to learn that he or she was actually harmed by the defendant’s sub-standard care. In that situation, the deadline won't be extended unless the patient can prove that the harm wasn’t discovered (and couldn't have been discovered) right away.
Indiana also has a fairly unique rule that lets a potential medical malpractice plaintiff "toll" the statute of limitations (delay the running of the clock, in other words) for 90 days by filing a "proposed complaint" with the "medical review panel" (as discussed in the previous section).
Finally, patients who were under six years of age at the time that the alleged medical malpractice occurred have until their eighth birthday to file a lawsuit. This is true even for newborns who were harmed by birth-related medical malpractice.
Having read all of this, you may be wondering what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed. In that situation, it’s a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss the case, the court will grant the request, and that will be the end of your lawsuit.
Like a lot of states, Indiana has a law on the books 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.
Indiana is also fairly unique among states in that its "damage cap" applies to the total amount of compensation that an injured patient can recover -- not just to certain categories of damages (many states limit only the recovery of non-economic damages, which includes compensation for things like "pain and suffering" in a medical malpractice case).
Here's a snapshot overview of Indiana’s medical malpractice damage caps, which were first passed in 1975, and which are set to increase in the coming years (you can find the full text of these laws at Indiana Code section 34-18-14):
(Note: If the malpractice occurred prior to July 1, 1999, the caps are lower than what's listed here).
If you've got more questions about Indiana's medical malpractice laws, and how they apply to your particular situation, an experienced medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.