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Appellate Court Affirms Vigo Superior Court's Decision Denying Summary Judgment in Indiana Medical Malpractice Case

In Kindred Nursing v. Estate of McGoffney, a woman executed a durable power of attorney that named one of her two daughters as her attorney-in-fact. In September 2008, the woman entered an Indiana nursing home. About one month later, the woman revoked her original power of attorney. She then signed a new document naming her other daughter her attorney-in-fact. In January 2009, the woman’s original attorney-in-fact asked a Vigo County Probate Court to appoint her the guardian of her mother. The woman’s current agent opposed her sister’s request. After reviewing the situation, the probate court instead appointed the woman’s current attorney-in-fact to act as her guardian. A few months later, the woman was removed from the nursing home.

In late 2010, the woman’s former agent filed a proposed medical malpractice lawsuit against the skilled nursing facility on behalf of her mother in Vigo Superior Court. A few months later, the probate court issued an order stating the woman’s guardian had waived her right to file such a case and held that the plaintiff was entitled to sue on her mother’s behalf. After the nursing home unsuccessfully petitioned the probate court to withdraw its order, the facility filed a motion to dismiss the action with the superior court. According to the nursing home, the plaintiff was not authorized to bring the case on her mother’s behalf. In December 2011, the superior court granted the facility’s motion and dismissed the daughter’s proposed medical malpractice complaint.

The woman’s granddaughter became her court-appointed guardian in January 2012. Within one month, the new guardian filed an amended medical malpractice complaint on her grandmother’s behalf. The nursing home responded by filing a motion for summary judgment. The facility claimed that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the two-year statute of limitations for an Indiana medical malpractice claim had expired. The woman’s granddaughter failed to file her response in a timely fashion, and the skilled nursing facility moved to strike both her response and her request for an extension.

Several months later, the former nursing home resident passed away, and the woman’s original agent was named the personal representative of her estate. On her motion, the court allowed the estate to substitute itself as the plaintiff in the proposed medical malpractice case. The estate also asked the trial court to allow it to supplement the granddaughter’s response to the nursing home’s motion for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the superior court held that all responses to the facility’s motion for summary judgment were untimely. Despite this, the court denied the nursing home’s motion. After that, the facility filed an interlocutory appeal with the Court of Appeals of Indiana.

On appeal, the skilled nursing facility argued that the lower court committed error when it denied the nursing home’s motion for summary judgment because the statute of limitations for the medical malpractice action expired. The woman’s estate countered that Section 34-11-8-1 of the Indiana Code (the “JAS”) extended the applicable time frame. According to the court, the JAS was created to allow a plaintiff to refile a complaint that was dismissed for technical reasons rather than based on the merits of the case. Although the requirements under the law are strict, the appellate court stated that the JAS generally applies in situations where a plaintiff’s failure is not due to “negligence in prosecution.”

After examining the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals held that the JAS applied to the estate’s proposed medical malpractice lawsuit. Since a substantially identical, timely-filed complaint was initially dismissed over lack of standing, and there was no evidence the plaintiff acted in bad faith or failed to diligently prosecute her claims, the court found that the JAS revived the plaintiff’s original complaint. Finally, the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed the trial court’s order denying summary judgment in favor of the nursing home.

If you or someone you love was the victim of medical malpractice in Indiana, a seasoned personal injury lawyer may be able to help. To discuss your case with a knowledgeable Merrillville medical malpractice attorney today, call Theodoros & Rooth, P.C. at (219) 212-2462 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Kindred Nursing v. Estate of McGoffney, 15 NE 3d 641 – Ind: Court of Appeals 2014