March 19, 2014

Medical Malpractice Action Is Filed When The Proposed Complaint Is Mailed

Category: Civil Procedure, Claims & Defenses | Author: | Share:

The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued its decision in Moryl v. Ransone, ___ N.E.3d ___ (Ind. March 10, 2014), Cause No. 46S04-1403-CT-149, a case that dealt with the always important question of when is an action “filed” for the purposes of the statute of limitations. In this case, the Court dealt with this question in the context of a medical malpractice action—a procedural world that can be very different than a run-of-the-mill civil action.

A medical malpractice plaintiff must file a proposed complaint with the IDOI, so that a medical review panel can issue an opinion, before the actual lawsuit proceeds. But there has been some dispute over what constitutes “filing” a proposed complaint.

Here, a man died on April 20, 2007, while under medical care. On Sunday, April 19, 2009, the plaintiff sent her proposed complaint to the IDOI via FedEx Priority Overnight, but the IDOI did not receive and file-stamp it until April 21st. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the proposed complaint was not “filed” until the 21st. The trial court agreed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. But the Indiana Supreme Court saw things differently.

The defendants argued that the proposed complaint may have been timely if sent by registered or certified mail, but that the plaintiff chose to send it via FedEx instead. This argument was based on I.C. § 34-18-7-3(b), which states that a proposed complaint is considered to be filed once it “is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail to the commissioner.” The statute does not expressly provide that proposed complaints can be sent by commercial carrier, so the plaintiff’s delivery choice was her attorney’s own dumb mistake.

The Court disagreed. It looked to another statute, I.C. § 1-1-7-1, which states that service via a designated private delivery service shall qualify as service “by registered or certified mail.

This section expressly supersedes all code sections that require “notice or other matter” be sent by registered or certified mail. … Harmonizing the uncertainties raised by the defendants, we hold that a proposed medical malpractice complaint is filed upon mailing with a designated private delivery service—as well as the USPS—so long as it satisfies Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1.

The plaintiff had proof (a paralegal’s affidavit, a cover letter dated April 18th, a FedEx Kinko’s receipt, a printout of proof-of-delivery details, etc.) that the proposed complaint was delivered to FedEx on the 19th, so the Court found that the proposed complaint was filed within the statutory period.

Our decision constitutes a refusal to elevate form over substance. “We are unwilling to fortify the armory of those who attack the law as famous for its ability to elevate form over substance.” State ex rel. Attorney Gen. v. Lake Superior Court, 820 N.E.2d 1240, 1252 (Ind. 2005); see In re Estate of Robertson, 859 N.E.2d 772, 778–79 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) (J. Robb, dissenting), trans. not sought. We see no substantive difference between a proposed medical malpractice complaint mailed via FedEx Priority Overnight, tracking and return receipt requested, and a proposed complaint mailed via USPS registered and certified mail. And neither does the Indiana General Assembly, as evident by their adoption of Indiana Code section 1-1-7-1.

Lessons:

  1. I.C. § 1-1-7-1 provides that service via an IRS designated delivery service is to be treated as service via registered or certified mail.
  2. A proposed medical malpractice complaint is considered filed when it is delivered to an IRS designated delivery service.
  3. The Indiana Supreme Court is unsympathetic to an argument raising form over substance.

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