In 1975, Indiana enacted The Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The first medical malpractice law in the nation, it was designed to address concerns regarding the increased costs of medical malpractice insurance premiums, which in turn led to more expensive medical care for Indiana citizens.
The MMA contains two fundamental provisions. First, the law imposes a procedural requirement that a plaintiff brings his case before a Medical Review Panel before filing a lawsuit. Second, it imposes a statutory limit on damages that a plaintiff can recover.
Though the damages caps have been raised several times since the MMA’s inception, Indiana still has among the lowest damages caps in the country. Still, a recent two-tier increase on the limitations – to $1.65 million and $1.8 million, depending on the dates of injury – means Indiana patients will have a greater likelihood of covering most or all of their medical malpractice-related damages, even if they require a lifetime of medical care.
Medical Review Panel
Like many states, Indiana requires patients to offer some type of proof that their claims are valid before they file a medical malpractice lawsuit. While many states require an Affidavit of Merit from a physician or other health care provider, Indiana requires you to surmount a more difficult hurdle known as the Medical Review Panel (“Panel”).
Specifically, before you may file a medical malpractice lawsuit, unless you believe you will not have more than $15,000 in damages as a result of the malpractice, you must file a complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance. This will start the Medical Review Panel process.
Under that process, you, your attorney, and the defendant will participate in the selection of the Panel, whose composition will include three licensed health care professionals and a non-voting attorney chairperson. Once the Panel has been formed, you and the defendant must submit medical records, witness depositions, and other evidence as requested or allowed by the Panel.
The Medical Review Panel will issue an expert opinion on the following:
- Whether the evidence supports a conclusion that the defendant failed to meet the applicable standard of care in your treatment;
- Whether the defendant’s conduct was a factor in causing you harm and, if so, to what extent you suffered a disability or permanent impairment; and
- Whether there is a significant factual question that doesn’t require an expert opinion but should be decided by a judge or jury.
The Panel’s opinion is deemed to be expert evidence and can be admitted in a subsequent trial in your lawsuit.
If you decide to proceed with your medical malpractice case after completion of the medical panel review, you must file the lawsuit within 90 days after receiving the panel’s opinion. Although patients can bring medical malpractice claims in a state court even if the Panel concludes that the provider did not act negligently or cause a plaintiff’s injury, this Medical Review Panel process is an important tool in keeping some cases that should not be filed out of court, and helping facilitate the settlement of other cases.
Medical Malpractice Damages
There are three types of medical malpractice damages:
- Economic Damages (often also called Special or Compensatory Damages), which compensate patients for medical costs, lost wages, and similar non-speculative damages;
- Non-economic Damages (often also called General or Pain and Suffering Damages), which compensate patients for mental anguish, pain, suffering and similar types of damages that are considered speculative; and
- Punitive Damages, which are designed to punish healthcare providers for particularly reckless behavior.
Indiana sets a damages cap on all medical malpractice damages combined. This is in contrast to the vast majority of states that impose damages caps only on Non-economic Damages such as pain and suffering or emotional problems.
The amount of Indiana’s damages cap depends on the date of the malpractice. The limit is $1.65 million for cases that happened between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019. If the malpractice happened on or after July 1, 2019, the damages cap is $1.8 million. These are increases from the limitation of $1.25 million enacted in 1998.
Over the years there have been many challenges to Indiana’s damages limitation under the theory that the law violates the Indiana Constitution’s provision allowing all citizens access to the courts. The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the MMA against these challenges. However, the Court’s most recent decision regarding the constitutionality of the MMA’s damages cap, Plank v. Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc., suggests that, in the appropriate case and on a sufficient showing of changed circumstances since the MMA’s enactment, the Court could find the MMA’s damages limitations unconstitutional.
If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice in Indiana, we can become your trusted resource and ally. We serve patients injured by health care providers and bring many years of deep experience in the medical malpractice field to every case. Contact us today to set up a free consultation to see how we can help you.