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Laporte Indiana Medical Malpractice Lawyer| Is Serving Coffee Is Medical Malpractice?

Guy DiMartino Oct. 31, 2014

LaPorte, Indiana medical malpractice lawyer discusses a recent Court of Appeals opinion finding that serving coffee to a patient is malpractice.

I have discussed the reasons why defendants try to make general negligence (injury) claims into medical malpractice claims. The main reason is that a medical malpractice claim is so expensive to bring.

In Van Dyne v. IOM Health Systems, a Parkinson's patient was admitted to a skilled nursing facility. One of the hallmarks of Parkinson's disease is a resting tremor; however, the patient did not show signs of a tremor. A staff member of the facility gave the patient a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup. The patient spilled the coffee on his lap causing burns. The patient died because of unrelated issues, and his wife brought a lawsuit for the burn injury.

The hospital asked the court to dismiss the case because the patient's wife did not comply with the pre-suit requirements of Indiana's Medical Malpractice Act. In Indiana, before a medical malpractice case can be filed in court, it has to go through an administrative proceeding before the Indiana Department of Insurance. The trial court agreed with the hospital and dismissed the case. The wife appealed.

In a decision that I disagree with, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and affirmed the dismissal of the action because the wife did not comply with the requirements of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. Click here to read the full decision. The court said that:

the gravamen of Van Dyne's complaint is the decision to give hot coffee in an open cup… which was an exercise of professional medical judgment.

I agree with Judge Robb's dissenting opinion. Specifically, Judge Robb stated:

Giving a patient a cup of coffee does not seem to me to be an action undertaken in the interest of or for the benefit of the patient's health. It is neither diagnosis or medical care and treatment. Determining whether a person with Parkinson's Disease – the common symptoms of which are within the knowledge and experience of lay people – should be given a hot cup of coffee in an open cup requires no professional skill or expertise… I believe this is a claim of “ordinary negligence” that just happened to occur in a medical setting.

I'm with Judge Robb. I believe plaintiff should have been able to go forward with her claim. Do you think that giving hot coffee to a patient is medical care that should come under the protections of Indiana's Medical Malpractice Act?