Cerebral Palsy Patient Wins Appeal in Indiana

Yesterday, the highest court in Indiana found in favor of minor boy with cerebral palsy – allowing him to proceed against the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund for money damages associated with his spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. Spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, as opposed to spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, is a brain disorder that effects two of four limbs. In most patients with spastic diplegia it is the legs that are effected. The video below is instructive.

This is an interesting decision involving Indiana’s medical malpractice laws. Indiana has a “bifurcated” medical malpractice system. Basically, the recovery for medical malpractice victims in Indiana is capped at $1,250,000.00. The first phase involves bringing a claim against the actual health care providers alleged to have been negligent. The most the patient can recover against the health care providers is $250,000.00. If the patient is successful in recovering the $250,000.00 he or she can they bring a claim against the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund (“PCF”) to try and recover the additional $1,000,000.00.

In the present case, the parents of the minor boy alleged that the defendant health care providers were negligent during the labor and delivery process. Specifically, the parents claimed that the doctors allowed the baby to undergo fetal distress for an extended period of time, which caused the boy’s cerebral palsy.

The doctors settled with the parents for the first $250,000.00. Then they moved forward with a claim against the PCF to recover the additional $1,000,000.00. In the case against the PCF, the PCF named 5 experts who contended that either the boy did not have spastic diplegic cerebral palsy or that his cerebral palsy was not caused by the doctors’ negligence. The attorneys for the parents filed a motion, citing well-established Indiana law, to preclude the PCF from contesting the nature of the boy’s cerebral palsy and the cause of the boy’s cerebral palsy. The trial court agreed that the issue of “liability” was not in dispute with respect to the PCF and granted the parents’ motion. The Indiana Court of Appeals then reversed.

In finding for the parents, the Indiana Supreme Court basically held that once a plaintiff has successfully recovered the first $250,000.00, all that is left to be decided with respect to a claim against the PCF is how much excess money (out of the remaining million) the patient is supposed to get. So, the PCF cannot dispute the nature or cause of the boy’s cerebral palsy and will have to pay some portion, if not all, of the remaining million dollars available.

A couple of observations. First, Indiana’s medical malpractice system seems terribly unfair – especially in a case like this. Cerebral palsy is a condition that causes a lifetime of pain and suffering, which results in a person needing extensive medical care and therapy. To limit a cerebral palsy victim to $1,250,000.00 in damages, when the projected medical care in a case like this will typically cost five to fifteen million dollars, is unjust. Nearly every single case we handle for a minor with cerebral palsy involves the need for future care that costs substantial more than one or two million dollars
Second, medical malpractice lawyers in Indiana must seldom take these types of cases. Litigating a cerebral palsy case can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. By limiting the total recovery for a cerebral palsy patient to $1,250,000.00 it seems that very few practitioners would take a case simply because of the economics. And of course, lay patients are unable to bring these incredibly complex cases on their own.

Here is the opinion.

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