Winona Memorial Foundation of Indianapolis v. Lomax

Decision Date25 June 1984
Docket NumberNo. 4-583A138,4-583A138
Citation465 N.E.2d 731
PartiesINONA MEMORIAL FOUNDATION OF INDIANAPOLIS and Winona Memorial Hospital, Appellants (Defendants Below), v. Rochelle A. LOMAX, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Robert A. Fanning, Locke, Reynolds, Boyd & Weisell, Indianapolis, Stephen A. Free, Free, Brand, Tosick & Allen, Greenfield, for appellant.

F. Boyd Hovde, Townsend, Hovde, Townsend & Montross, Indianapolis, for appellee.

MILLER, Judge.

Defendants Winona Memorial Foundation of Indianapolis and Winona Memorial Hospital (collectively referred to hereafter as Winona), bring this interlocutory appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion for summary judgment and the entry of partial summary judgment (finalized by the trial court pursuant to Ind.Rules of Procedure, Trial Rule 56(C)) in favor of the plaintiff-appellee, Rochelle Lomax. Lomax claimed she was injured when she tripped and fell over a protruding floorboard on Winona's premises as she prepared to receive physical therapy treatment. She alleged Winona's negligent failure to maintain its floor in a reasonably safe condition caused her to fall. Winona argued that the language of the Medical Malpractice Act was broad enough to encompass Lomax's claim and that her failure to obtain a medical review panel opinion before commencing her action in court, as required by the Act, entitled Winona to summary judgment. The trial court held Lomax's claim was not within the scope of the Act, and its procedures, therefore, did not apply. Winona's motion for summary judgment was thus denied and partial summary judgment was entered in favor of Lomax. We affirm.

FACTS

On February 7, 1979, Lomax was in Winona Memorial Hospital to receive physical therapy treatment prescribed by her doctor. On that date, Winona was qualified as a health care provider within the meaning of the Medical Malpractice Act, IND.CODE 16-9.5-2-1. For the purposes of this appeal, it may be presumed Lomax was a patient, 1 as defined in the Act. See, IND.CODE 16-9.5-1-1(c).

Before receiving her therapy, which was to be conducted in a large pool, Lomax was instructed to change her clothes in a dressing room with a board floor adjacent to the pool area. She did so, unattended by any of Winona's employees. On her way from the dressing room to the pool area, Lomax tripped and fell when she caught her foot on a floorboard that protruded above floor level. No employee of Winona was assisting Lomax at the time of her fall, and no medical or physical therapy treatment was rendered to her before or at the time of her fall.

On August 8, 1979, Lomax filed her complaint in court, alleging Winona's negligent maintenance of the floor adjacent to the pool area was the cause of her fall and of her injuries, including a herniated disc in her lower back and a numbing of the right side of her body. Winona moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Lomax had failed to comply with the Medical Malpractice Act by failing to present a proposed complaint to the Insurance Commission for review by a medical review panel before commencing her action in court. See IND.CODE 16-9.5-9-2. Winona's motion to dismiss was denied on April 23, 1981.

On October 21, 1982, Winona filed a motion for summary judgment on the same grounds as its motion to dismiss. 2 The summary judgment motion was supported by the Affidavit of the Chief Deputy Insurance Commissioner stating that Winona was a qualified health care provider and that the Insurance Commission had not received an opinion from any medical review panel concerning Lomax's allegations of negligence. Lomax responded with an affidavit of her own, swearing to the circumstances surrounding her fall and disclaiming that her injuries resulted from malpractice or from professional services rendered or not rendered. The trial court held Lomax's claim was not within the Medical Malpractice Act and, therefore, was not subject to the precondition of review by a medical review panel. Winona's motion for summary judgment was thus denied, and, pursuant to T.R. 56(B), the trial court entered summary judgment for Lomax on the issue of whether her claim was within the scope of the Act.

DECISION

We begin our discussion of the propriety of the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment to Lomax under T.R. 56(B) by reciting the applicable standard of review. Generally, summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. T.R. 56(C). Trial Rule 56(B), however, authorizes the trial court to grant summary judgment to a non-moving party on issues raised in a motion for summary judgment filed by any party. A summary judgment on less than all the issues in a claim is interlocutory and not appealable unless, as in this case, the trial court expressly determines in writing that there is no just reason for delay and directs entry of judgment as to less than all the issues. T.R. 56(C). In reviewing the grant of a partial summary judgment, we apply the same standards as the trial court, and we must reverse the judgment of an unresolved issue of material fact appears in the record or if the law was incorrectly applied to undisputed facts. Jones v. City of Logansport, (1982) Ind.App., 436 N.E.2d 1138, 1143.

Because it is undisputed that Lomax was a patient (R. 2, 31) and Winona was a qualified health care provider (R. 20, 87) within the meaning of the Medical Malpractice Act, the only issue for decision on this appeal is whether the trial court properly determined, as a matter of law, that Lomax's claim of Winona's negligent failure to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition was not within the scope of the Act. Winona essentially argues: (1) the language of the Act is clear on its face, without need of construction, and broad enough to encompass Lomax's claim; (2) the purpose of the Act requires that all claims by a patient against a health care provider be included within the Act; and (3) this court's decision in Methodist Hospital of Indiana, Inc. v. Rioux, (1982) Ind.App., 438 N.E.2d 315, is direct and controlling authority for the inclusion of Lomax's claim within the Act. Lomax, on the other hand, contends: (1) literal application of the supposedly clear language of the Medical Malpractice Act would lead to absurd and contradictory results, which can be avoided only by proper statutory construction; (2) the purpose and structure of the Act require exclusion of Lomax's claim from its coverage; and (3) the language of the Rioux decision on which Winona relies is dicta and, therefore, not controlling in the present case. We agree with the arguments made by Lomax and affirm the trial court.

Need for Statutory Construction

Winona's argument begins with the proposition that a statute that is "clear and unambiguous on its face need not and cannot be interpreted by a court." Indiana Board of Tax Commissioners v. Holthouse Realty Corp. (1976) 170 Ind.App. 232, 239, 352 N.E.2d 535, 539. Winona contends the language of the definitional section of the Medical Malpractice Act, IC 16-9.5-1-1, clearly and unambiguously defines Lomax's claim as being within the Act. Specifically, Winona points to the following definitions:

" 'Malpractice' means any tort or breach of contract based on health care or professional services rendered, or which should have been rendered, by a health care provider, to a patient."

IC 16-9.5-1-1(h).

" 'Tort' means any legal wrong, breach of duty, or negligent or unlawful act or omission proximately causing injury or damage to another."

Id. Sec. 1(g).

" 'Health care' means any act, or treatment performed or furnished, or which should have been performed or furnished, by any health care provider for, to, or on behalf of a patient during the patient's medical care, treatment or confinement."

Id. Sec. 1(i). Winona places special emphasis on the words "any act" in this definition. Also relevant is the following:

" 'Health care provider' means:

(1) a person, partnership, corporation, professional corporation, facility or institution licensed or legally authorized by this state to provide health care or professional services as a physician, psychiatric hospital, hospital, dentist, registered or licensed practical nurse, optometrist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist or psychologist, or an officer, employee or agent thereof acting in the course and scope of his employment."

Id. Sec. 1(a)(1).

Putting these definitions together, Winona concludes: "Malpractice, then, by definition is any breach of duty or negligent act or omission by a health care provider to a patient." Appellants' Brief at 14. 3 Winona argues the clear, unambiguous effect of these definitions is to place Lomax's claim squarely within the Medical Malpractice Act without the need, or even permissibility, of statutory construction, and to reject the distinction Lomax attempts to draw between "classical" medical malpractice, which she admits is within the Medical Malpractice Act, and ordinary negligence, which she contends is not.

The basis for Lomax's contention is the absurd and contradictory results she claims would arise from application of the Act to "premises liability" or "ordinary negligence" claims such as hers. 4 She points out that, presumably, "the Legislature does not intend an absurdity, and such a result will be avoided if the terms of the act admit of it by a reasonable construction." In re Estate of Pickens, (1970) 255 Ind. 119, 128, 263 N.E.2d 151, 156.

Lomax contends that Winona's position that every claim by a patient against a qualified health care provider comes within the Medical Malpractice Act leads to absurd results. For example, under that construction of the Act, all of the following claims would be subject to the requirements and procedures of the Act: (1) the claim of a patient who was injured when a light fixture...

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