Can a plaintiff who is not a patient, yet who suffered injury as a result of alleged medical malpractice, be considered a ‘patient’ under the state’s medical malpractice act and seek excess damages from the state’s patient compensation fund? This is the question that Indiana’s Supreme Court had to decide.
Facts of the Case
Mrs W, 72, had been a patient of Dr P for over a decade, and had been prescribed numerous medications by him over the years, including opioids. Mrs W was driving with her adult granddaughter in the car, after having taken her prescribed medication, when she became unable to lift her foot off the car’s accelerator. As she approached an intersection with a red light, she screamed “I can’t stop!” before crashing into another vehicle that had the right of way.
The crash was severe, and Mrs W died from her injuries, as did the other driver Mrs C and her daughter who was a passenger. Mrs W’s granddaughter escaped serious injury. Blood test results from Mrs W showed opiates in her system, which had been prescribed by Dr P.
Mr C was the husband and father of the 2 people who were killed in the other car. After the accident took the lives of his wife and daughter, he sought the counsel of a plaintiff’s attorney, and eventually filed a lawsuit against Dr P, alleging medical malpractice. Specifically, he claimed that Dr P breached the standard of care to Mrs W by failing to warn her of the danger of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of the prescribed medication; failing to screen Mrs W for cognitive impairment caused by the prescription medications; failing to adjust her medications to address problems with muscle control; and, asking the state’s motor vehicles bureau to assess her driving ability. Mr C claimed that these failures on the part of Dr P resulted in the wrongful deaths of his wife and daughter.
Dr P eventually settled with Mr C for the statutory limits for malpractice cases, $250,000, but Mr C retained his right to seek excess damages from the state’s Patient’s Compensation Fund. He subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking excess damages from the Fund. The Fund’s administrator responded that the fund had no liability because the underlying claim was not covered by the Medical Malpractice Act because the decedents had not received medical care from the provider and as such were not patients. The Fund moved to dismiss the case, and the lower court agreed and did so. Mr C appealed and the case made its way to the state’s highest court which was tasked with answering the following question: does the state’s Medical Malpractice Act apply to claims brought against providers for individuals who did not receive medical care from the provider, but who were injured as a result of the provider’s negligence in providing medical treatment to someone else?