Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court took up a case regarding a medical malpractice claim, which centered on the issue of whether the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The main discussion here was whether the plaintiff’s claim of medical malpractice and fraud was time-barred by the Indiana Business Trust Act, or IBTA for short.
In this case, the plaintiff, Teresa Blackford, was tested for Hepatitis, which was commonly connected to a condition she was also suffering from. The test was conducted at Welborn Clinic, and the clinic informed Blackford that she tested negative for Hepatitis. She continued to get treatment at the clinic until they went bankrupt and surrendered their ability to conduct business in the state of Indiana in 2009. This ended the healthcare provider-patient relationship between the clinic and Blackford.
Blackford’s health began to decline, and in 2014, she requested her health records from her time at the clinic. Her records revealed that she had in fact tested positive for Hepatitis, and she sued the clinic for medical malpractice in 2015. However, the Clinic filed for summary judgement and noted that under the IBTA, claims are time-barred after five years have gone by since the business closed. This time limit is given so that a business may “wind down their affairs” and handle any potential legal issues that may arise against them. Blackford responded by filing a cross-motion for summary judgement which said that because the results of the test had been fraudulently concealed from her, the statute of limitations was equitably tolled, and the five-year period did not begin until she discovered the concealment of her results.
Here, the Indiana Supreme Court had to determine whether there can be tolling in this situation. Tolling is a concept relating to statutes of limitations where the time of the statute of limitations may be delayed or paused. This can occur when someone is in a coma, for example. They lack the ability to sue, but if they recover the time begins to move again.
Here, the Court notes that the IBTA is a so-called “statute of repose”, meaning that it time-locks claims to a certain period of time, after which there can be no claims against a company. Statutes of repose bar equitable tolling, and because of this, Blackford’s claim is barred. The Court further noted that because this is a case of “passive fraud” that the equitable tolling period, if one had existed, would have ended with the end of the doctor-patient relationship in 2009.
What Does This Case Mean?
This case states that, in Indiana, claims of medical malpractice involving passive fraud against a defunct business are barred by the five-year statute of limitations in the IBTA. If a doctor’s office has given you incorrect information, and not told you about it, then goes out of business, you must file a lawsuit against that office sooner than five years after they go out of business. This is a tough decision on the Court’s part, because through no fault of her own, Blackford did not discover her health condition until it was too late. It is important to stay vigilant, and if possible, to get a second opinion if you think one is necessary.
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