Medical malpractice complaint deemed filed on date sent via FedEx
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s holding that a medical malpractice complaint could only be deemed filed as of the date of mailing if, and only if, the complaint were sent out via registered or certified mail. This interpretation of Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b) excluded delivery services such as FedEx or UPS. Thus, a party filing a medical malpractice complaint via FedEx, as in this case, would have their complaint with the Dept. of Insurance deemed filed on the date of receipt by the DOI rather than the date it was sent out. Here, it meant the filing of the complaint occurred after the statute of limitations expired.
On a petition for rehearing (which was denied without any further opinion), the plaintiff raised for the first time that Ind. Code § 1-1-7-1(a) should control. That statute reads in relevant part:
If a statute enacted by the general assembly or a rule . . . requires that notice or other matter be given or sent by registered mail or certified mail, a person may use: (1) any service of the United States Postal Service [“USPS”] or any service of a designated private delivery service (as defined by the United States Internal Revenue Service) that: (A) tracks the delivery of mail; and (B) requires a signature upon delivery . . . .
Id. (emphasis added in opinion).
Thus, two issues were presented to the Court: 1) could the plaintiff raise this argument for the first time on rehearing, and 2) could the above statute control the application of Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b). The Supreme Court answered both of these questions in the affirmative.
As to the first point, the Court observed: “The crucial factor, however, in determining whether [the plaintiff] may interject what appears to be a new issue into the appeal is whether [the defendant] had unequivocal notice of the existence of the issue and, therefore, had an opportunity to defend against it.” Hochstedler v. St. Joseph Cnty. Solid Waste Mgmt. Dist., 770 N.E.2d 910, 918 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), trans. denied. The Court found that the issue of whether the complaint was timely filed was clearly conveyed at all levels and so defendants’ objection on this argument was overruled.
On the second, the Court focused on two portions of the statute: 1) that the med mal statute required delivery by registered or certified mail in order to deem a complaint filed; and 2) that the filing of the complaint fell under the “or other matter” provision.
In closing the Court emphasized that its opinion was an elevation of “form over substance” and observed that there really was no difference anyway between filing a complaint via FedEx or UPS overnight and doing so via registered or certified mail.