Family Continues Fight Against Indiana Malpractice Cap

January 5, 2016

An Evansville, Ind., couple is keeping up a decadelong legal fight over their claims of medical malpractice in their daughter’s birth that left her a quadriplegic and unable to speak.

A Vanderburgh County jury in 2013 awarded $15 million in damages to Crystal and Jamie Bobbitt in their lawsuit against a doctor and St. Mary’s Medical Center of Evansville. They’ve not yet received any of that money, and their attorneys are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s malpractice damage cap of $1.25 million.

“I get so frustrated with the system. There’s always these delays,” Crystal Bobbitt told the Evansville Courier & Press.

An expert hired for the lawsuit’s trial estimated lifetime care for 12-year-old Juliann Bobbitt will cost $8 million to $10 million, said Terry Noffsinger, an attorney for the family.

Indiana’s malpractice damages cap was enacted in 1975, according to the Indiana State Medical Association. Under Indiana law, doctors are responsible for only the first $250,000 in damages to any patient for each act of malpractice, but no more than $750,000 total per year. The state’s Patient Compensation Fund pays any excess, up to $1 million.

Attorneys for the state are defending the malpractice limit. A Vanderburgh County judge is considering the case, with final legal briefs due in early January.

The Bobbitts are also challenging whether damages owed by St. Mary’s Medical Center should be paid from Indiana’s Patient Compensation Fund.

St. Mary’s attorneys have denied the lawsuit’s malpractice claims and maintain the hospital should be covered by the state fund.

“St. Mary’s has been and is currently qualified to receive coverage under Indiana’s Patient Compensation Fund of the Indiana Medical Act. This is an active case, so we will refrain from making any comments publicly,” hospital spokesman Randy Capehart said.

Medicaid officials waived the program’s income requirements so that it can serve as secondary insurance for Juliann, covering expenses such as office co-payments, Crystal Bobbitt said.

“If we get any kind of settlement, we have to pay Medicaid back. We owe them over a half-million dollars,” she said.

Noffsinger said he hopes the Bobbitt family’s case will provide the impetus to at least increase, if not abolish, Indiana’s medical malpractice damage award cap.

Supporters argue that raising the cap would mean more lawsuits, leading to higher medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and higher costs for patients.

The family’s lawsuit was filed in 2005, following Juliann’s 2003 birth. It claims medical providers conducted a fetal blood sampling procedure on Crystal Bobbitt with inadequate staffing and failed to provide continuous ultrasound guidance during the procedure, leading to her premature birth at 33 weeks.

Juliann has cerebral palsy, leaving her unable to use her arms and legs, and must be fed by a tube.

Bobbitt said her daughter loves going to school and being around people, although she can communicate only using body language.

“She’s a blessing. I really can’t think of her any other way,” Bobbitt said. “She lights up a room with her smile.”

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