In Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund v. Holcomb, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed a question of first impression regarding whether Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act’s cap on attorney fees from a Patient Compensation Fund (“Fund”) award also applies to reduce the Fund’s liability. Holcomb was an adult wrongful death medical malpractice case in which the trial court ordered payment by the Fund to the estate without any reduction to reflect the limitation on attorney fees.  The Fund did not dispute the reasonableness of the attorney fees sought but argued the 15 percent limit on attorney fees imposed by the Medical Malpractice Act  (“Fee Cap Provision”) should be judicially expanded and directly applied to reduce the Fund’s liability to the estate so that the attorney fee component is only 15 percent of its total excess liability.  The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed the trial court.  In doing so, the court held that the Fee Cap Provision in medical malpractice cases under Ind. Code § 34-18-18-1 is clear and unambiguous in that “the plaintiff’s attorney fees from any award made from the Patient’s Compensation Fund may not exceed fifteen percent (15%) of any recovery from the fund.” As such, attorney fees payable from the excess damages recovered from the Fund are limited by the Fee Cap Provision to 15 percent of the excess payment.

Ultimately, the court determined that this statutory limitation is not at issue in the plaintiff’s claim against the Fund but rather is made while resolving the plaintiff’s attorneys fees with the client.  Essentially, the Fee Cap Provision applies only to cap the fees the plaintiff’s attorney may charge his or her client as to the award the client receives from the Fund, but it does not lessen the Patient Compensation Fund’s liability to a plaintiff in an adult wrongful death medical malpractice action.