Parents of Severely Injured Indiana Girl Fight Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages Awards

01/05/2016 | Medical Malpractice

An Evansville, Indiana couple was awarded $15 million by a jury in a medical malpractice lawsuit in 2013.  The lawsuit was filed against St. Mary’s Medical Center and Dr. Mureen Turnquest-Wells after the birth of the couple’s child.  The child, a daughter now nine, was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy and will require significant medical care for the rest of her life.  A jury returned the verdict after listening to evidence in a ten day trial. 

Little did the jury know, Indiana, like too many states, has enacted what is referred to as “tort reform.”  Part of Indiana’s tort reform involves caps on the amount of damages, or money, injured people can recover.  So, although a jury awarded the little girl $15 million for care over her lifetime, tort reform reduces that by more than 90%.  Indiana’s cap on damages is $1,250,000. 

Medical malpractice cases are extremely expensive to prosecute, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to handle from inception through trial.  This case was tried twice after being rejected twice by Indiana’s medical review panel (another component to tort reform requiring a panel of doctors ‘approve’ a case before it can be filed in court) and after the first trial ended in a hung jury.  The couple’s attorney says after trial costs, attorneys’ fees, and health insurance liens (liens from Medicaid alone totaling over $500,000), the money the little girl will recover for life care will be minimal. 

Her name is Juliann, she cannot speak, has cerebral palsy in all four limbs, is wheelchair bound, must be fed by a tube, and she receives constant nursing care.  The life care plan presented at trial placed the cost of Juliann’s care over her lifetime at $5 to $10 million. 

Now, more than two years after the jury’s verdict and $15 million award, the family still has not received any money, presumably as the doctor and hospital pursue appeals.  The family now is also fighting the constitutionality of Indiana’s cap of $1.25 million as part of the tort reform system.  The family alleges the system and cap is unconstitutional.  Attorneys for the state of Indiana are defending that lawsuit, arguing tort reform and the cap does not violate the Constitution.  The family hopes to increase the amount able to be awarded under the cap or abolish Indiana’s medical malpractice damages cap completely.