Negligence, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances.” This seems to be a relatively straightforward definition, but in the world of medical malpractice, and according to the Court of Appeals of Indiana, negligence exists in a different realm for doctors in medical malpractice cases. The recent decision and holding of Metz v. Saint Jospeh Regional Medical, 115 N.E. 489 (Ind. App. 2018), has solidified that in cases involving potential application of Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), a claim falls under the MMA where there is a causal connection between the conduct complained of and the nature of the patient-health care provider relationship.
In Metz v. Saint Joseph Regional Medical, Amy Metz, on behalf of her daughter Kiara Metz, brought an action against healthcare providers, alleging that the providers were negligent for failing to report Kiara Metz’ infant abnormal borderline test results for hyperthyroidism as well as failing to take action to retest Kiara after being made aware of the results. The trial court below found that because the alleged acts and omissions of the medical providers constituted claims of medical negligence rather than general negligence, that the MMA, along with its requirement that the person claiming medical negligence file a timely complaint with the medical review panel. In addition, the MMA also required Kiara to file the claim with the medical review board before her eighth birthday. The trial court granted the medical provider’s Trial Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss despite the Plaintiff’s arguments that the claims did not fall under the MMA because they involved a simple failure to perform an administrative duty to read and report the critical information in the letters regarding Kiara’s test results.
In upholding the decision of the trial court, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found that in order to be outside the MMA, “a health care provider’s actions must be demonstrably unrelated to the promotion of the Plaintiff’s health or an exercise of the provider’s professional expertise skill, or judgment.” The appellate court went on to explain that the test is whether the claim is based on the medical provider’s behavior or practices while acting in their professional capacity as a provider of medical services. The appellate court found that claims of ordinary negligence arise only in cases where the layperson of the jury is capable of resolving the factual issues presented at trial without the need for someone from the local medical community to testify as to the standard of care. A claim for medical negligence, and thus an instance where the MMA would come into play, arises where there is a causal connection between the conduct complained of and the nature of the patient-health care provider relationship.
The Court further reasoned that based on the MMA’s own broad definition of healthcare, the prompt analysis of laboratory results and proper follow up care is part of what patients expect from health care providers. As a result, a medical provider’s failure to abide by the local standard in the medical community for reading, reporting, and further diagnosing a patient’s potential ailment falls firmly within the purview of the MMA and its numerous procedural condition precedent to filing suit. As a result, it is important to make sure that in instances where a case may or may not be based on medical negligence, it is imperative to submit a claim to the malpractice review board so as to meet the MMA requirements in a timely manner.