Indiana Federal Court Refuses to Reopen Medical Malpractice Case Dismissed Due to Patient’s Procedural Error

It is vital for a patient who was hurt as a result of medical malpractice to file his or her lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction. In Portee v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, an Indiana woman underwent elbow replacement surgery in Ohio. According to the woman, the surgeon who operated on her severed her ulnar nerve. As a result, she filed a medical malpractice case against the doctor, the hospital where her surgery was performed, and other medical professionals in the Southern District of Indiana. In response to the woman’s complaint, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction or to transfer the case to the state where the hospital was located. In general, personal jurisdiction refers to a court’s power to decide a case and enforce its decision over the parties to a lawsuit.

After stating the woman failed to establish that the court had jurisdiction over the defendants, the Southern District of Indiana granted their motion and dismissed the lawsuit. Because the one-year statute of limitations expired before the woman’s case was dismissed, she asked the Indiana court to transfer her lawsuit to the Northern District of Ohio in lieu of dismissing her claims. A statute of limitations is the time frame during which an injured party may file a lawsuit with a court. If the hurt person fails to file a complaint within the allotted time, he or she is typically permanently barred from recovering damages regardless of fault. According to the federal court, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1404 and 1406 allow a court to transfer a case to a different venue “in the interest of justice.” Still, any transfer is at the discretion of the court.

The federal court examined the precedent relied upon by the injured woman before finding her situation was distinguishable. In the woman’s case, there was no evidence offered to indicate the surgeon obtained a professional license or provided her care in Indiana. In addition, the fact that the doctor advised the woman to seek physical therapy in her home state did not supply the court with personal jurisdiction over him. The federal court also declined to hold that jurisdiction was established by the hospital’s solicitation of patients who reside in Indiana. Similarly, the court said jurisdiction was not established by the hospital’s partnerships with Indiana hospitals for medical procedures that were not related to the woman’s condition.

Next, the Southern District of Indiana agreed with the defendants’ claim that the plaintiff made an elementary and frivolous error when she filed her lawsuit with an Indiana court. Although dismissal constituted a harsh penalty, the injured woman had at least seven months’ notice that personal jurisdiction over the defendants was questionable before the statute of limitations expired. In addition, the court said the Ohio savings clause may allow the woman to refile her case in the appropriate venue.

Because the injured woman’s error was elementary and she was on notice that the court likely lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendants before the statute of limitations expired, the Southern District of Indiana denied her motion to vacate its dismissal and reopen the case for transfer.

If you were hurt or a family member was killed as a result of a physician’s surgical error, you may have a claim for financial compensation. To discuss your right to recover damages with an experienced Merrillville personal injury attorney, give the skilled lawyers at Theodoros & Rooth, P.C. a call today at (219) 212-2462 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Portee v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Dist. Court, SD Indiana 2015