Understanding the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act

AdobeStock_86925143.jpeg

Medical malpractice laws can vary widely from state to state, particularly as it relates to statutes of limitations, the legal process, liability, and damages.  Luckily for our Hoosier healthcare providers, Indiana is one of the best states to practice medicine in.

The Indiana Malpractice Cap on Damages

In 1975, Indiana was the first state in the nation to implement malpractice reform via the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), a seminal feature of which is the Patient’s Compensation Fund (PCF).  The MMA offers protection to both patients and healthcare providers and has helped improve malpractice insurance rates, quality of coverage, and patient access to care.

The MMA governs malpractice claims against “qualified providers” in the state of Indiana. To become “qualified”, a health care provider must file a proof of financial responsibility and pay a surcharge assessed by the Indiana Department of Insurance that goes to the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. The PCF is a state-sponsored excess insurance program that helps pay claims to benefit injured patients in the state.

One of the most important aspects of the MMA is the cap, or limit, on the amount of damages that can be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit.  The cap has been raised twice since 1975 and, pursuant to legislation passed in 2016, will see two increases by July 1, 2019.  As of July 1, 2019, providers will need to carry a $500,000 primary limit and the PCF will provide an excess limit of $1,300,000. The Indiana malpractice cap will be set at $1,800,000. As long as a provider carries the necessary limits, he/she will not have any personal exposure. Example: If a malpractice claim in Indiana pays out $1,000,000, the provider’s underlying insurance will pay the first $500,000 and the PCF will pay the remaining $500,000.

The Indiana Medical Review Panel

Under the MMA, all malpractice claims against a qualified provider must be reviewed by a medical review panel before proceeding to court (unless they are valued at $15,000 or less). The purpose of the panel is to review the details of the case and render an opinion as to the merits of the complaint. This process mitigates frivolous claims or quick payouts and allows only those with actual merit to proceed to court.

The parties work with the medical review panel chairman (who is an independent lawyer) to select the members of the panel, which typically consist of 3 doctors of same or similar specialty to the provider involved. Occasionally, nurses or mid-level providers will serve on the panel, but only if the case is relevant to their specialty. The panel members review the details of the complaint and within 180 days, must render an opinion on the complaint - Malpractice, No Malpractice, or Material Issue of Fact (not enough information to render a decision).

If a plaintiff chooses to move forward with filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, the panel's report is admissible in court, but it won't be considered conclusive when it comes to the health care provider's liability or the nature and extent of the patient's injuries. Expert witnesses are key to both the defense and plaintiff sides, as they seek to show whether or not the standard of care was met in the case. Panel members can be called to testify at court and can serve as expert witnesses for either side of the case.

If you practice in the state of Indiana, it is extremely advantageous to become a qualified healthcare provider so that you can enjoy the protection (and benefits) of the MMA. Talk to a knowledgeable malpractice insurance agent to make sure that you’re qualified today.