Some venues are considered to be more plaintiff-friendly than others. And— unsurprisingly—plaintiffs want to pick the venue that will give them the greatest chance of the largest recovery. ABC Radiology, P.C. v. Gearhart deals with a creative way that one plaintiff has used to pick the forum.
Gearhart’s husband died from renal cell cancer in January 2015. She filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint with the IDOI, and filed a complaint in Marion County, asserting three counts:
- Medical malpractice against medical professionals and businesses;
- Common law negligence claims against one administrative staff member of a medical provider and her employer; and
- A claim for declaratory judgment against the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, the IDOI, and others, which sought a declaration regarding whether Count II was subject to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.
When she filed the complaint, Gearhart lived in Warrick County, which is adjacent to Vanderburgh County, where the defendants from Counts 1 and 2 were located. Defendants asked that Counts I and II be severed from Count 3, and that these other counts be transferred to Vanderburgh County. The trial court denied the motion to sever, and Defendants appealed.
On appeal, the Court noted that the case “boils down” to a question of joinder. Was the claim involving the Fund properly joined with the other two claims? And the dispute was over whether the second of three requirements were met, i.e. whether the claims arose “out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.” Here, the Court found that the plaintiff’s claims met this requirement.
We find that this determination is uniquely bound up with the underlying claims in a way that traditional insurance coverage disputes are not. Accordingly, we hold that a declaratory judgment action addressing the application of the Act arises out of the same transaction or occurrence (i.e. the alleged negligent act(s)) as the tort claims. In other words, the two are logically related and allowing permissive joinder in this context effectuates T.R. 20’s intended purpose of promoting trial convenience, expediting claims, and avoiding multiple lawsuits.
Thus, if there are issues concerning whether the Medical Malpractice Act applies to a particular person or entity, then a plaintiff may plead the claim into Marion County, if they think that it may be more friendly than other possible venues.
If there are questions regarding whether a claim is subject to the Medical Malpractice Act, then any declaratory judgment action involving the Fund is properly joined to the underlying claim, and may be brought in Marion County.