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Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act Finds Higher Caps and Tighter Timelines

June 19, 2017 Medical Malpractice

operating room

On July 1, 2017, tweaks to Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) take effect. This is the first time the legislature has increased the limits on damages in nearly two decades, among other changes to the MMA.

The director of government relations for Indiana State Medical Association evaluates the MMA as the “gold standard” of medical malpractice laws and says Indiana “is one of the top states to practice medicine because of our favorable malpractice environment,” which can certainly be read as a gentle nod to the difficulty patients may face when undertaking a medical malpractice suit. Indeed, Indiana is in limited company as a state where the law sets caps for medical malpractice damages.

Arguing the flip side, the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association points to caps as creating an environment attractive to less-successful physicians. At a minimum, the long-untouched caps needed to reflect increases in healthcare costs. After some legislative wrangling that would have bumped up the caps every four years, a new deal was struck, and signed into law.

The maximum recoverable amount, for years among the nation’s lowest, is raised incrementally by the new law. From the current $1.25 million, it adjusts to $1.67 million on July 1, 2017, and again to $1.8 million on July 1, 2019. The change is a result of concern among lawmakers that Indiana’s early-adopted statutory caps would meet the fate of other states where caps are low: being ruled unconstitutional and unfair to patients.

The new regulations also protect patients from lag times after damages are awarded. Henceforth, a statutory timeline will dictate how a case proceeds—unless the parties agree on a separate written agreement. This provision is intended to prevent delays in all stages of the proceedings, from selection of a review panel to collecting discoverable evidence, and all details necessary to close out the case. Damages must be paid within 60 days after the final, non-appealable judgment is issued.

On the whole, the revision brings a long-needed re-evaluation of reasonable expectations for these complicated and expensive cases. While one faction will argue it did not go far enough (and certainly lawmakers did aim for even higher caps when the bill was introduced), it’s hard to imagine another being unhappy with the change. How it shakes out in practice—well, we’re about to find out.

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