Justia Health Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
In the Matter of the Estate of Fe Perez Abad
In a case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the court was asked to determine the deadline for filing a claim against a decedent’s estate for reimbursement for Medicaid services provided to the decedent while alive. The probate code of Alaska provides that for claims arising “before the death of the decedent,” the creditor must file within four months after the estate's representative first published notice to creditors. For claims arising “at or after the death of the decedent,” the creditor must file within four months after the claim arose. The court held that Medicaid estate recovery claims arise before death and therefore must be filed within four months after notice to creditors. The court reasoned that although the state may not pursue these claims until after the Medicaid beneficiary has died, these claims arise when Medicaid services are provided, not when the claims become enforceable. The court's decision was based on the interpretation of the probate code, the underlying legislative purpose of the Medicaid estate recovery statute, and the weight of precedent from other jurisdictions. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Fe Perez Abad" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Abigail B.
The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska ruled that the extended pre-evaluation detentions of two individuals, Abigail B. and Jethro S., violated their substantive due process rights. Both individuals were detained at local hospitals after suffering psychiatric emergencies. Court orders authorized immediate transportation of each individual to an available bed at an evaluation facility for further examination. However, due to a lack of available beds, neither individual was immediately transported, resulting in prolonged detentions. Abigail B. was detained for 13 days before transportation for evaluation, while Jethro S. was detained for 17 days. Both individuals appealed the detention orders, arguing that their prolonged detentions violated their substantive due process rights. The court agreed, citing a recent decision (In re Hospitalization of Mabel B.) that stated pre-evaluation detentions must bear a reasonable relation to the purpose of facilitating immediate transportation for evaluation. The court concluded that the nature and duration of Abigail's and Jethro's detentions were not reasonably related to their purpose, thereby violating their substantive due process rights. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Abigail B." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Sergio F.
In this case, a man identified as Sergio F. was taken into emergency custody after his religious delusions led him to walk naked along a road during the winter. Following this incident, the Superior Court of the State of Alaska ordered his evaluation at a treatment facility, and subsequently involuntarily committed him for up to 30 days of treatment. A subsequent petition led to the superior court ordering a 90-day involuntary commitment to the treatment facility, as it found that the man was gravely disabled and needed additional treatment.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska vacated the superior court’s 90-day commitment order. It agreed with the man's argument that there was insufficient evidence to show he was gravely disabled and that the court failed to determine whether his commitment to the treatment facility was the least restrictive alternative for his treatment. The Supreme Court emphasized that less restrictive alternatives to hospitalization must be considered before ordering involuntary commitment and that it was the state’s burden to show that those alternatives do not exist or are not feasible. The Supreme Court found that this did not happen in this case, as neither the parties nor the court engaged in the specific inquiry required to address the petition’s allegations that less restrictive alternatives were considered and rejected by the treatment facility. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the 90-day commitment order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Sergio F." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity of the Hospitalization of Declan P.
In the State of Alaska, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder stopped taking his medication, experienced a manic episode, and was hospitalized as a result. The hospital staff petitioned for him to be involuntarily committed for 30 days, which the superior court granted. The man appealed, arguing against the court's decision that he was likely to cause harm to others, was gravely disabled, and that there was no less restrictive alternative to involuntary commitment. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska held that the man's rights were violated because there was a feasible, less restrictive alternative to the involuntary commitment. The court also ruled that even if the suggested outpatient treatment proposal was not feasible, the State had failed to meet its burden of proving that no less restrictive alternative existed, as it did not consider any other treatment options beyond the man's proposal. The commitment order was vacated on these grounds. View "In the Matter of the Necessity of the Hospitalization of Declan P." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Tonja P.
A woman who suffered from schizophrenia appealed court orders authorizing her involuntary commitment and administration of psychotropic medication. She argued the superior court erred by relying on a cursory report from the court visitor and by failing to make specific findings that involuntary medication was in her best interests. She also contended it was error to commit her to a psychiatric hospital instead of to a less restrictive facility. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s orders. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Tonja P." on Justia Law
Patterson v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District
An elementary school nurse who unsuccessfully attempted to save the life of a choking child sought workers’ compensation benefits for mental health problems she attributed to the incident. She argued that she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to exposure to the child’s bodily fluids and resulting risk of disease and to the mental stress of the incident. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied her claims, concluding that her exposure to bodily fluids was not a sufficient physical injury to trigger a presumption of compensability and that the mental stress of the incident was not sufficiently extraordinary or unusual to merit compensation. The Board was most persuaded by the opinion of the employer’s medical expert that the nurse’s mental health problems were the result of a pre-existing mental health condition and were not caused by the incident. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the Board failed to recognize the link between exposure to bodily fluids and mental distress over the risk of serious disease, which under Alaska precedent was enough to establish a presumption that the mental distress is compensable; and (2) the Board failed to consider the particular details of the child’s death and the nurse’s involvement when it concluded as a general matter that the stress of responding to a choking incident at school was not sufficiently extraordinary to merit compensation for mental injury. However, because the Board found in the alternative that the incident was not the cause of the nurse’s mental health problems, and because both the Commission and the Alaska Supreme Court had to respect the Board’s credibility determinations and the weight it gave conflicting evidence, the denial of benefits was affirmed. View "Patterson v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District" on Justia Law
Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum
This case presented the questions of whether and how Alaska Statute 09.55.548(b) applied when the claimant’s losses were compensated by an employer’s self-funded health benefit plan governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that an ERISA plan did not fall within the statute’s “federal program” exception. Therefore AS 09.55.548(b) required a claimant’s damages award to be reduced by the amount of compensation received from an ERISA plan. But the Supreme Court also concluded that the distinction the statute draws between different types of medical malpractice claimants was not fairly and substantially related to the statute’s purpose of ensuring claimants do not receive a double recovery — an award of damages predicated on losses that were already compensated by a collateral source. "Because insurance contracts commonly require the insured to repay the insurer using the proceeds of any tort recovery, claimants with health insurance are scarcely more likely to receive a double recovery than other malpractice claimants. The statute therefore violates the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution." View "Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Jonas H.
A man appealed superior court orders authorizing his commitment for mental health treatment and the involuntary administration of psychotropic medication, arguing the superior court relied on erroneous facts to find that he was gravely disabled and that the court did not adequately consider the constitutional standards established in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute before authorizing medication. Because the evidence supported the court’s finding that the man was gravely disabled, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the commitment order. But the Supreme Court vacated the medication order because the court’s analysis of the Myers factors was not sufficient. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Jonas H." on Justia Law
Park v. Spayd
In 2019 a woman sued her former husband’s medical provider, alleging that from 2003 to 2010 the provider negligently prescribed the husband opioid medications, leading to his addiction, damage to the couple’s business and marital estate, the couple’s divorce in 2011, and ultimately the husband's death in 2017. The superior court ruled the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and rejected the woman’s argument that the provider should have been estopped from relying on a limitations defense. Because the undisputed evidence shows that by 2010 the woman had knowledge of her alleged injuries, the provider’s alleged role in causing those injuries, and the provider’s alleged negligence, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the claims accrued at that time and were no longer timely when filed in 2019. And because the record did not show that the woman’s failure to timely file her claims stemmed from reasonable reliance on fraudulent conduct by the provider, the Supreme Court concluded that equitable estoppel did not apply. View "Park v. Spayd" on Justia Law
Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington
A patient sued a hospital after learning that a hospital employee intentionally disclosed the patient’s health information in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The patient alleged the disclosure breached the hospital’s contractual obligations to him. The superior court instructed the jury to return a verdict for the hospital if the jury found that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of employment when she disclosed the patient’s information. The jury so found, leading to judgment in the hospital’s favor. The Alaska Supreme Court found the jury instruction erroneously applied the rule of vicarious liability to excuse liability for breach of contract. "A party that breaches its contractual obligations is liable for breach regardless of whether the breach is caused by an employee acting outside the scope of employment, unless the terms of the contract excuse liability for that reason." The Court therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings, in particular to determine whether a contract existed between the patient and hospital and, if so, the contract’s terms governing patient health information. View "Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington" on Justia Law