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Expert Evidence Not Required to Survive Summary Judgment if Indiana Health Care Provider’s Negligence May be Inferred

In Thomson v. Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, a woman allegedly suffered an injury to her right arm after a padded arm board became detached from an operating table during a two-hour surgical procedure. As a result, the woman’s arm dangled towards the floor for an undetermined period of time while she was under anesthesia. According to her surgical record, the woman’s anesthesiologist reattached the arm board after he noticed it was no longer attached to the table. The doctor apparently did not know how long the board was detached.

Following her surgery, the woman complained of right arm pain. Her anesthesiologist explained what happened with the arm board and purportedly told the woman she may have suffered nerve damage as a result. Later, the woman sought treatment from a neurologist who diagnosed her with a radial nerve injury in her right arm that was likely caused by compression. Although her neurologist later found that the woman had normal nerve structure and functioning, she continued to experience residual issues such as tingling and numbness.

Almost two years after the woman experienced the alleged surgical error, she filed a proposed complaint against the anesthesiologist and the hospital where her surgery took place with the Indiana Department of Insurance. More than one year later, a medical review panel found that the medical providers did not deviate from the appropriate standard of care. In addition, the panel stated the defendants’ conduct did not cause the woman permanent harm.

Several months later, the injured woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the physician and the hospital. The defendants responded by filing a motion for summary judgment based on the medical review panel’s opinion. Such a motion is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute and a party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor as a matter of law. In her opposition to the summary judgment motion, the woman offered expert testimony stating she suffered a nerve injury during surgery. She also offered conflicting deposition testimony provided by one of the members of the medical review panel regarding the anesthesiologist’s conduct.

Following a hearing, the trial court found that the panel member’s testimony was insufficient to rebut the panel’s decision. In addition, the court stated the woman’s expert testimony did not establish a causal relationship between her harm and the anesthesiologist’s care. As a result, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and ruled in favor of the medical providers.

On appeal, the injured woman argued the trial court should not have granted the defendants’ motion because there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute. The woman claimed that whether or not the anesthesiologist complied with the appropriate standard of care and the cause of her arm injury were both at issue.

According to the Court of Appeals of Indiana, a plaintiff must typically present expert medical evidence to rebut a medical review panel’s decision in order to survive a motion for summary judgment. Despite this, the court said such testimony is not required when negligence may be inferred from the surrounding facts. The appellate court said such an inference may be made when a plaintiff can demonstrate the cause of his or her injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant and the accident is not one that would normally occur if proper care was used. After examining the facts of the case, the court held that the woman successfully met this burden. As a result, the appeals court stated the injured patient was not required to present expert testimony to rebut the medical review panel’s decision in order to defeat the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Next, the Indiana appellate court turned to the issue of causation. The court said the expert testimony offered by the woman’s neurologist was “was sufficient to rebut the opinion of the medical review panel and, consequently, create a question of fact.” Since summary judgment was not appropriate in the case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motion and remanded the dispute for trial.

If you suffered harm as a result of an Indiana medical provider’s negligence, you should discuss your case with a seasoned personal injury lawyer as soon as you are able. To speak with a knowledgeable Merrillville medical malpractice attorney today, do not hesitate to call Theodoros & Rooth, P.C. at (219) 212-2462 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Thomson v. Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Ind: Court of Appeals 2015