Medical Malpractice in Indiana 2016: When Doctors Make Mistakes and People Are Hurt or Killed

Medical Malpractice in Indiana 2016: When Doctors Make Mistakes and People Are Hurt or Killed

Indiana and Illinois each have state laws that cover medical malpractice claims, and the two laws are not the same. While both Illinois and Indiana do provide legal avenues for people who have been hurt by the mistakes and errors of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, hospitals, clinics, etc., the legislators of each state have come up with different remedies for the victims of medical mistakes (”malpractice”) in their jurisdiction.

Here are some things that you need to know about medical errors and doctor mistakes in Indiana as of 2016.

1. Indiana Has a Medical Malpractice Cap on Damage Amounts That Can Be Awarded

For almost 20 years now, there has been a law on the books that limits the amount of money that can be provided to medical malpractice victims in Indiana. This is called the “medical malpractice cap,” and it was passed into law as “tort reform” back in 1975. For a very long time, that maximum amount was set at $1,250,000 by state law.

Which seems like a lot of money, until you consider how much medical costs and expenses can be. Especially for victims with severe harm, and long-term care needs, this amount of money cannot truly compensate many of them for their injuries, especially the younger victims who now face a lifetime of medical care and rehab.

Indiana legislators understood this and there was a big push to raise the medical malpractice cap in Indiana. This year, a new law was enacted. It did raise that amount; now, for an act of malpractice occurring after June 30, 2017, the new Indiana medical malpractice cap is set at $1,650,000.00 and $1,800,000 after June 30, 2019.

That’s more money, true. But it’s not much more and Indiana remains a state with one of the lowest allowed amounts of medical malpractice damages in the entire country.

2. Jury Awards and Medical Malpractice Caps

In personal injury trials, the jury who hears the story of what has happened to the patient who has been a victim of medical malpractice is not limited to this number. That jury can come back with an award that they feel is just.

They can return $10 Million, $20 Million, etc. — whatever the jury feels is needed to compensate that victim and cover her needs over her lifetime as a result of the doctor’s mistake.

The doctor’s lawyer, however, will request the judge to reduce that award back to the much lower “cap” defined in the Indiana statute.

3. Why have the Medical Malpractice Cap?

Indiana lawmakers justify limiting the amount of damages to be awarded to a victim of medical errors or doctor mistakes because of insurance rates. The rationale is that if there are jury awards for medical malpractice all over the state that give millions of dollars in awards to these patients who have been harmed by their health care professionals, then the insurance companies that cover those doctors and hospitals will be harmed.

The insurance carriers, so the argument goes, will have to raise their malpractice insurance premiums to cover all these claims in order to stay in business. These higher premiums will mean that doctors will then face the dilemma of being able to practice medicine for a profit here, since the increased rates would be so very high.

The insurance companies and their lobbyists have won this argument time and again.  The doctors who practice in Indiana, and their insurance companies, are liable for only a certain amount of damages; then the state’s Patient Compensation Fund (PCF)  pays additional monies up to a certain amount  toward the malpractice award decided by the jury.

Under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Law: 

  • Back in 1975, the doctor’s insurance company paid a maximum of $100,000 under the cap, and the remaining $400,000 was paid by the PCF for a total cap of $500,000 on the medical malpractice claim.
  • In 1990, the cap was increased to $750,000.  Here,the doctor’s insurance company still had to pay $100,000 but the PCF had an increased liability of $650,000.00.
  • In 1999, the cap jumped to $1,250,000.  Now, the doctor’s carrier had to be responsible for up to $250,000 in the medical malpractice claim with the PCF liable for up to $1 Million.
  • Recently, the law changed again.  As of 2017 (for malpractice on or after June 30, 2017), the cap will be $1,650,000; and as of 2019, the cap will rise again to $1,800,000 (for malpractice injuries on or after June 30, 2019).

It’s a barrier created by statute on the patient’s damage recovery.  Once the total of the doctor’s legal limit and the PCF legal limit is reached, then the Indiana medical malpractice cap law acts to block any further monies having to be paid by those medical professionals who caused the harm.

The PCF is overseen by the Indiana Department of Insurance. Every year, a report is released to the general public about the medical malpractice claims that have proceeded through the doors of the PCF that year.

Go here to read the PCF annual report for 2014.

4. Hospitals Argue Medical Malpractice Insurance Costs Too Much

You might think that these caps would mean that insurance carriers could calm down and stabilize, right? No. Reports are that Indiana hospital administrators are facing increasing malpractice insurance premiums, with each year bringing about a new premium increase.

And these are big increases: “double-digit” increases are being reported by Indiana hospitals.

So, what’s going on here?

News is that the PCF is being asked to cover so many medical mistakes that it’s running in the red. There are so many medical errors in Indiana, that even with the “cap” on damages in an individual claim, there’s way too little money in the pot to pay out all the claims that are being filed.

It’s reported that the PCF paid out $176,000,000 in medical malpractice claims in 2013. It’s also reported that the PCF has been running in the red to the tune of $100 Million each year for the past four years.

As we discussed in last week’s post, the scary truth is that serious medical mistakes are shockingly common in the United States today. Researchers from Johns Hopkins have written to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking them to recognize the medical studies that show medical mistakes are the third highest cause of death in the United States today. These are mistakes that kill people; the number really skyrockets when you consider how many medical errors have resulted in long-term harm and permanent disabilities. Be careful out there!

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