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Failure to Warn Patient Not to Drive on Medication


A woman was in a car accident and at the accident scene the woman overheard the driver of the other car say she should not have been driving due to a medical condition. Later, the woman received a letter that had been sent to the county prosecuting attorney's office from the driver’s physician stating that the driver's medical conditions and medications could have played a role in the accident.

 

The woman and her husband sued the driver alleging that, as a result of the collision, the woman suffered permanent, debilitating injuries that required extensive hospitalization and her husband suffered a loss of spousal consortium. That case settled for an undisclosed sum. Just under two years after the accident, the woman and her husband filed a proposed complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance against the driver’s doctor and his medical group alleging medical negligence in failing to warn the driver not to drive while she was taking her medication. The defendants filed a motion for preliminary determination of law and for summary judgment contending that the plaintiffs failed to timely file their complaint. The Orange County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of the physician and physician's employer.

 

The Supreme Court of Indiana reversed and remanded. The court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding when the statute of limitations began to run, the filing of a proposed complaint with the Department of Insurance was sufficient to commence the action for the purposes of the statute of limitations, and a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding causation.

 

In order for the statute of limitations’ start date to be triggered, Indiana law requires that a plaintiff be aware of facts that, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should lead to the discovery of the malpractice and the resulting injury. Factual issues relating to the running of the limitations period, such as the date on which the plaintiff first learns of the injury, are to be resolved by the trier of fact at trial. The court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding when the woman became aware of facts that led to the discovery of the alleged malpractice and resulting injury for the purposes of when the statute of limitations was triggered, and therefore summary judgment in favor of the driver's physician was precluded. The court reasoned that it was unclear whether the woman could have discovered the alleged malpractice at the scene of the accident when the woman allegedly overheard the driver say she should not have been driving, or when the woman received a letter that had been sent to the prosecuting attorney's office from the driver’s physician stating that the driver's medical conditions and medications could have played a role in the accident.

 

The court also held that the woman's filing of a proposed medical malpractice complaint with the Department of Insurance was sufficient to commence the action for the purposes of the statute of limitations. The statute governing medical malpractice claims explicitly stated that the filing of a proposed complaint tolled the applicable statute of limitations.

 

Finally, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding causation, and therefore summary judgment was precluded. The court reasoned that it was unclear whether the driver decided to drive despite the physician’s warning. A movant must do more than cite the absence of evidence and claim that the non-moving party is thereby unable to prove an element of its case. Rather, the moving party must demonstrate that the undisputed facts conclusively establish the absence of a required element of the non-moving party's case. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation, the court remanded the action.

 

See: Manley v. Sherer, 2013 WL 4039391 (Ind., August 8, 2013) (not designated for publication).

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication

 

 

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