The ISMA filed a motion Nov. 15 to appear as an amicus party in the case of Matthews v. Lupton. This case represents a second pending constitutionality challenge to the medical malpractice damages cap; the ISMA has been fighting the Plank v. Community Hospital case for more than three years.
“The ISMA is the only physician member organization in Indiana fighting the recurring challenges to our medical malpractice act, and we do it on your behalf,” said Julie Reed, ISMA general counsel.
Each time the ISMA steps in to defend our state malpractice law and preserve a favorable liability environment, the action is supported only with your membership dollars.
Details of the latest case
The Matthews family filed a complaint in 2003 alleging their son suffered an injury during his birth in 2002. After a nine-day trial, the jury rendered its verdict Aug. 20, 2012: $4.1 million in favor of the Matthews family.
The defense followed protocol and moved to reduce that verdict to Indiana’s $1.25 million statutory medical malpractice damages cap. Plaintiffs’ attorney objected. However, the judge granted the request to reduce the verdict and formally issued a judgment for $1.25 million.
On Oct. 1, Matthews filed a motion asking the trial court to reverse its ruling and enter judgment for the full amount of the jury verdict, or $4.1 million. In doing so, Matthews argued the Indiana medical malpractice damages cap is unconstitutional.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office intervened in mid-November. The state advised the court that the claims presented by Matthews are precisely the same as those presented in the Plank vs. Community Hospital case, now pending before the Indiana Supreme Court.
Therefore, the state noted, “A decision in Plank – which could come at any time, as the Supreme Court held oral argument in the case on May 3, 2012 – could potentially dispose of every claim presented in the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Correct Errors.”
State officials believed an evidentiary hearing in this case would be premature and urged the court to consider holding the Motion to Correct Errors until the Indiana Supreme Court renders a decision in the Plank case.
ISMA action to defend
The ISMA filed a motion to appear as amicus curiae in support of the defendants in the Matthews case and the state.
“In our motion, we informed the court we were actively involved as an amicus party in the 1980 Johnson v. St. Vincent Hospital case in which the Indiana Supreme Court ultimately upheld the then five-year-old medical malpractice damages cap,” said Reed. “We also notified the court of our continued active involvement in the Plank case.”
The ISMA explained to the Matthews court (as previously with the Plank courts) that plaintiffs are ignoring the exclusive province of the state legislature “to balance the many competing social, economic, political, and medical considerations implicated in tort reforms such as the Act and to determine public policy through laws such as the Act.”
Further, the ISMA noted, “Plaintiffs are suggesting a fundamental shift in the relationship between the judicial and legislative branches of government that is contrary to every principle of constitutional and statutory construction.”
Indeed, the ISMA informed the court that just days earlier in another ISMA amicus case, Robertson v. B.O., the Indiana Supreme Court reaffirmed, “It is not our place to upset th[e] balance” chosen by the Indiana General Assembly when enacting the act and the damages cap.
The court has granted the requests of the state and the ISMA to participate in this case, now set for a status conference Dec. 4. “Ideally, the trial court will stay the case until we receive a ruling from the Supreme Court in the Plank case, which could come any day now,” Reed said.
For questions, contact ISMA General Counsel Julie Reed.