This blog post discusses a recent decision made by the Indiana Court of Appeals concerning a case where a patient was sexually assaulted by a nurse.
More specifically, it addresses the question: Is sexual assault considered medical malpractice in Indiana?
Jane Doe v. The Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund
On January 17, 2018, Jane Doe, a patient admitted to a hospital in Muncie, Indiana, after suffering a stroke, reported being sexually assaulted by registered nurse Nathanial Mosco, who was assigned to her care.
Nathaniel allegedly assaulted Jane twice after administering morphine and cleaning her catheter. Jane reported the incident to another nurse, who replaced Nathanial later in the day.
Nathaniel was ultimately arrested and convicted of Class B misdemeanor battery.
Jane promptly filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the University Ball Memorial Hospital. The hospital agreed to a settlement of $400,000, which led to the dismissal of Jane’s lawsuit. However, Jane maintained her right to seek additional compensation from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, a state-run fund designed to cover damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits when they exceed a healthcare provider’s insurance coverage.
The Fund moved for summary judgment, arguing that Jane’s claims were not medical malpractice claims. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment.
Jane appealed the decision.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruling
In its opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act does not encompass instances of ordinary negligence. The court explained that the Act is designed to address scenarios involving a healthcare provider’s curative actions within their professional capacity, not behavior that doesn’t contribute to a patient’s well-being or utilize the provider’s professional medical knowledge.
In short, Jane’s claims did not call into question the professional skills exercised by the nurse. Instead, they raised factual issues that a jury could resolve without needing to apply the typical standard of care expected within the local medical community.
What does the ruling mean for victims of sexual assault in healthcare settings?
The Patient Compensation Fund is designed to cover malpractice claims, not criminal acts committed by healthcare professionals.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruling clarified that claims against healthcare providers for sexual assault do not fall under the Medical Malpractice Act and, therefore, victims of sexual assault in healthcare settings do not have access to the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund.
In instances of sexual assault, victims must instead seek all of their redress from the courts under negligence principles.
Damages available in sexual assault cases
Sexual assault can take a physical and emotional toll that often lasts a lifetime. Although it’s impossible to make a person “whole” following an act of abuse, the law typically allows victims to recover economic and non-economic damages in an effort to do so:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by the abuse. Economic damages may include medical expenses (for physical and mental health treatment) and lost wages if the victim missed time from work as a result of the abuse.
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary damages caused by the abuse. Non-economic damages may include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available in certain states under certain narrow circumstances.
Statute of limitations in sexual assault cases
One of the biggest hurdles to filing a sexual abuse claim is time. The term “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit.
When it comes to sexual abuse cases, each state has its own time limit. In most cases, the clock starts ticking the moment the abuse occurs. However, many states toll (or pause) the clock if the victim is a minor.
If a victim fails to file a lawsuit within the time limit set by the statute of limitations, their claim will be forever barred.
Find out the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in your state, including tips to follow if you’ve been sexually assaulted.