Malpractice suit brought against Indiana senator after he released a patient who later collapsed and died

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published September 8, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The malpractice case against Indiana senator Tyler Johnson, an emergency physician by education, predates his 2022 election. 

  • The case centers on the 2018 death of a woman who died less than half an hour after Tyler discharged her from his care.

  • A resolution between parties has been reached, but a hearing for summary judgment is still scheduled.

A resolution has been reached in a years-long malpractice case against an Indiana Senator, Republican Tyler Johnson, who is an ER physician by education.

The malpractice case predates Johnson’s 2022 election. It centers on the 2018 death of 20-year-old Esperanza Umana. Umana received care from Johnson in the Parkview Regional Medical Center emergency room. She was discharged the same day. Less than half an hour later, she filled prescriptions at a local drugstore when she experienced a cardiac arrest. Umana passed away in the parking lot. She was the mother of a newborn son.[][][] 

Umana’s mother, Jennifer Becerra, filed the malpractice suit against Johnson. The lawsuit alleges medical negligence. Court filings and medical records show that Umana had a history of asthma and sepsis. Accounts of Umana’s treatment in the emergency room in January 2018 vary depending on the source. The court filings differ from Johnson’s statements regarding the case. In Becerra’s court filings, it’s alleged that she received a 3.6-liter bolus of fluid to treat sepsis, along with a sedative for anxiety and a breathing treatment.[]   

According to the court filing, Johnson spent very little time with Umana on the day she died. He saw her briefly at around 4 pm and then “stuck his head in the room” at 6 pm Becerra claims that Umana was unstable upon discharge. She also claims that she pushed for further treatment for her daughter. In response, she alleges that Johnson ordered another breathing treatment but then went ahead with discharge as planned.[]

The malpractice suit claims that the treatment Johnson ordered “overloaded” Umana’s lungs with fluid and that he discharged her in an unstable condition. The suit argues that this was medically negligent and resulted in Umana’s death. In addition to Johnson, Professional Emergency Physicians Inc., and Parkview Hospital Inc. are also listed in the suit.[] 

Johnson’s account of Umana’s stay in the ER contains different facts and treatments. According to Johnson, Umana was alert, responsive, and no longer wheezing or in distress when he discharged her. He claims he ordered albuterol, prednisone, promethazine, and prescription-strength ibuprofen. He claims she improved drastically following these treatments. At discharge, he states he prescribed Umana additional ibuprofen, prednisone, and promethazine, along with Zithromax.[] 

In the affidavit, Johnson stated, “Based on Umana’s condition at the time I saw her, her death was not foreseeable. Had she appeared too ill for discharge or had her presentation suggested any risk of a fatal event, I would not have discharged her.”[] 

Umana alleges that Johnson’s statement contains information not previously contained in medical records. In March 2022, a medical review panel, a required step in medical malpractice cases in Indiana, ruled that Johnson “deviated from appropriate standards of care.”[]

This case marks the third time malpractice charges were brought against Johnson, but the first time a medical review board agreed with the charges. The previous two suits were dismissed after review.[] 

In July 2023, a settlement between Becerra and Johnson was reached. The exact details of the settlement are not available. Lawyers and representatives for both parties declined to comment. However, a hearing for summary judgment in the case is still scheduled.[] 

Indiana review panels

Some states utilize review panels before medical malpractice cases proceed to trial. During these panels, expert physicians look at the facts of a case and decide if the plaintiff has a solid argument for a malpractice suit. States with review panel requirements, such as Indiana, contend that keeping them in place prevents frivolous lawsuits and reduces the cost of malpractice insurance. 

The exact panel process is different in each state. Chase King, MD, an internal medicine specialist who has served on medical review boards in Indiana, explains, 

“In Indiana, you don’t file with the court. You file with the Department of Insurance, and that is what starts the process of the medical review panel,” says Dr. King. “The panel consists of three physicians and one attorney. Our task is to review the case and determine whether or not there was malpractice. We call it a ‘deviation from the standard of care.’ The attorney is there to give legal advice.” 

How does Johnson’s status as a senator affect the malpractice case?

Senator Johnson’s name might be a familiar one for healthcare professionals. He was involved in controversial healthcare bills and conversations during his first senate session. He authored the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors. He is also a plaintiff in a national case that aims to block access to abortion medication. Johnson's influence as a senator could be significant and may affect how a medical malpractice suit against him proceeds.[] 

In addition to disputing the charges in the malpractice suit, Johnson filed his own claims. He has argued that the case should be paused during the legislative session and that all public access to the court filings should be blocked. Johnson has claimed that filings in the lawsuit could be “manipulated and misused” by interested parties. He argued that he should be able to present his case without worry that it would be “used against him in his personal, professional, or legislative life.”

According to Indiana law, court proceedings against general assembly members are prohibited during legislative sessions, but exceptions exist. The law also allows court records to be concealed if making them public would create substantial risk or harm to a party, influence judgment, or if concealing them is in the public interest. Johnson argued that all of these conditions are met in his circumstances. 

In a March 2023 ruling, the judge disagreed, and proceedings continued. The records were not sealed. The case was paused, one of numerous delays, but only for 30 days.[]

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