In Indiana, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a fairly complicated undertaking, especially when compared with other types of civil lawsuits. On one hand, the medical and legal issues common to these kinds of lawsuits are complex, and most cases include the introduction of extensive treatment records as well as the detailed testimony of numerous medical experts. And on the other hand, most Indiana medical malpractice plaintiffs must comply with certain procedural rules besides filing the complaint (that's the document that ordinarily starts a civil lawsuit).
These safeguards have been put in place as part of tort reform efforts, which seek to discourage the filing of frivolous injury-related lawsuits. In this article, we'll summarize one of the most important of these rules in Indiana: the requirement that a complaint be submitted to a "medical review panel" before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in court (in most situations).
"Medical Review Panel" Complaints in Indiana
Indiana Code section 34-18-8-4 says that no medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in court against a health care provider unless the injured patient (or his or her representative) files a complaint with a medical review panel, and the panel has issued an opinion as to the merits of that complaint.
Under Indiana Code section 34-18-10-3, the panel must consist of one qualified attorney and three qualified health care providers. The panel will review medical records, hear from witnesses, and consider other evidence. Within 180 days, the panel is required to give an opinion, including as to whether or not "the evidence supports the conclusion that the defendant or defendants failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care" in treating the patient, as alleged in the complaint.
If the complaining patient ends up filing a lawsuit, the medical review panel's report is admissible as evidence, but is not considered conclusive as to the defendant health care provider's liability or the patient's injuries.
Filing a Lawsuit During Panel Review
A plaintiff may file a medical malpractice lawsuit before the medical review panel is done considering the case, according to Indiana Code section 34-18-8-7. But in that situation, the lawsuit filing can't contain any information that would allow a third party to identify the health care provider being sued, and the lawsuit can't proceed any further, beyond the court's setting a date for trial.
Exception for Cases Asking for Less Than $15,000
No complaint need be filed with a medical review panel if the lawsuit includes a declaration that the plaintiff will not seek damages against the health care provider in an amount over $15,000, according to Indiana Code section 34-18-8-6.
If the plaintiff makes such a declaration in good faith, and then later learns that the case is worth more than $15,000, he or she may have the first lawsuit dismissed and may seek to re-file a second lawsuit subject to compliance with the medical review panel requirement.
More Information on Indiana Medical Malpractice Cases
An Indiana medical malpractice plaintiff also needs to be aware of -- and be in compliance with -- the lawsuit filing deadline set by the Indiana statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits.
For more details on filing requirements and anything else related to an Indiana medical malpractice case -- and of course, for legal advice that's tailored to your specific situation -- it may be time to talk with an experienced Indiana medical malpractice lawyer.