Indiana Court expands vicarious liability for independent contractors

Indiana law requires – with limited exceptions – that patients who allege medical malpractice file their claims within two years.  Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued an opinion that muddied the waters on this seemingly clear issue. 

Columbus Regional Hospital v. Amburgey involved a lawsuit brought against Columbus Regional Hospital and two physicians.  After the two-year statute of limitations ran, the Plaintiff amended his complaint to add two additional physicians, an anesthesiologist and a neurologist, who were acting as independent contractors for Columbus Regional.  Those two independent contractor physicians were excused from the lawsuit on summary judgment because the Plaintiff failed to bring a complaint against them in a timely fashion.  Columbus Regional argued that it should also be excused from the lawsuit because the only alleged negligence against it was based on the actions of the neurologist and the anesthesiologist.  The Court of Appeals refused to let Columbus Regional out of the lawsuit. 

Although hospitals and other healthcare providers who engage the services of independent contractors are almost universally liable for the negligent acts of those contractors, the Indiana Court of Appeals expanded prior Indiana law by ruling that the Plaintiff’s failure to timely add the independent contractors did not affect their alleged negligence as it related to the hospital.  In sum, Amburgey seems to allow Plaintiffs to file a complaint against a hospital or health care provider and, without making specific allegations against all potentially negligent health care providers or requiring a determination by a Medical Review Panel, to end-run the statutory requirements and belatedly assert allegations that otherwise would not be allowed to go forward.  This is a troubling opinion for health care providers who contract with other physicians to provide services to patients at their facilities.

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