A jury of six ruled for the plaintiff, awarding $744,000 in the St. Joseph Superior Court in South Bend, IN, after conclusion of a two day trial. Dean and Tracy Dixon brought suit against Dr. Willard Yergler in 2015 contending that he executed an unnecessary surgical procedure on their son, who was 16 years old. The plaintiffs state that as a result of the procedure, their son was left with lingering pain that could be permanent. Dr. Yegler, who was a former University of Notre Dame team orthopedic surgeon, passed away in May 2016; however, the case continued against South Bend Orthopaedics, his employer at that time. If no appeal is filed, the plaintiffs can expect $250,000 from the medical malpractice insurance company, with the remainder to be paid in intervals by the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund.
The patient had endured an injury to his shoulder during a wrestling match. As his pain persisted, Dr. Yergler allegedly offered only one treatment option, “the Mumford procedure”, which surgically removes a portion of the clavicle to lessen pain. Attorneys for the plaintiff contend that a less drastic measure should have been considered, such as therapy with steroids; the panel of three doctors who made up the review board concurred. The defense reasoned that medical malpractice cannot be determined solely because different physicians may have chosen alternate forms of treatment.
Indiana was the first U.S state to pass reformed laws regarding medical malpractice when it enacted the Medical Malpractice Act in 1975. The act has stood the test of time, after being challenged under constitutional grounds. The law places a limitation of $1.25 million on total awards for damages. For hospitals of less than 100 beds, the aggregate amount extends to $5 million, or $7.5 million for facilities with over 100 beds.
The first $250,000 in damages is the responsibility of the physician, with the Patient Compensation Fund paying anything between $250,000 and $1.25 million. This fund provides compensation for damages that otherwise may be unavailable based on the medical provider’s level of insurance or available assets. Based on new legislation, in July 2017, the limitations will expand to $1.65 million and then to $1.8 million in 2019. In addition, the plaintiff’s attorneys will see their maximum portion of the awards rise from 15% to 32%.
The statute of limitations is two years from the date of the occurrence of malpractice. In rare cases, the court may extend this period when the injury was such that it would be unreasonable to have made a determination sooner. To initiate the process, the patient must file a complaint with the Department of Insurance, who then will have the compliant reviewed by three doctors. Once the review has been completed, the case may be brought to the court. The panel’s report is admissible evidence, but is not considered a ruling.