Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Robert Owen died 11 days after being transferred from Huntsville Hospital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital ("UAB Hospital") for cardiac treatment. His widow Gloria Owen, as the personal representative of his estate, sued the ambulance company that had transported him, Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc. ("HEMSI"), as well as HEMSI employees Jacob Steele, Calvin Hui, Christopher Nunley, and Dea Calce, alleging that events that occurred during Robert's transport had "caused him unnecessary stress, worry, concern, anxiety, and/or a delay in treatment," leading to further heart damage and his eventual death. During discovery, Gloria sought information from the HEMSI defendants about the previous conduct and employment record of Steele, a licensed emergency medical technician ("EMT") and the assigned driver of the HEMSI ambulance that transported Robert. The HEMSI defendants objected to Gloria's requests and sought a protective order, arguing that the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA") governed her claims and prohibited discovery related to any acts and omissions of a defendant that were not specifically described in the complaint. The circuit court rejected the HEMSI defendants' request for a protective order and directed them to produce the requested discovery; they petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, specifically a writ directing the trial court to amend its order to give effect to what they claimed were the applicable privilege and discovery protections of the AMLA. The Supreme Court granted the petition in part, and denied in part. The Court held all claims asserted by Gloria in this action were governed by the AMLA and subject to the limitations on discovery imposed by § 6-5-551. To the extent that the trial court's October 2021 order did not give effect to the § 6-5-551 privilege, the HEMSI defendants' petition was granted and the trial court was directed to modify that order. But to the extent the HEMSI defendants sought to prevent Gloria from discovering information regarding acts or omissions that were specifically alleged and described in her complaint, their petition was denied. View "Ex parte Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law

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Several entities that owned or operated hospitals in Alabama ("plaintiffs") filed suit against manufacturers of prescription opioid medications, distributors of those medications, and retail pharmacies ("defendants"), alleging that defendants' marketing or selling of the medications resulted in an epidemic of opioid abuse in Alabama. Plaintiffs sought to recover unreimbursed medical expenses incurred in treating individuals with opioid-related medical conditions. Among other theories of liability, plaintiffs asserted that defendants had created a public nuisance in the form of the epidemic. The trial court entered a case-management order directing the parties to try each of plaintiffs' causes of action separately. The public-nuisance claim was to be tried first and is itself to be bifurcated into two separate trials. The first trial on the public-nuisance claim was to involve "liability," and the second trial was to involve "special damage." Defendants, asserting that the trial court had erred in bifurcating the public-nuisance claim, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate the relevant portion of the case-management order. The Supreme Court granted the writ: "conducting a trial on the issue of the defendants' 'liability' for a public nuisance and a second trial on 'special damage' neither avoids prejudice nor furthers convenience, expedition, or economy. We can only conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion. We therefore grant the defendants' petition and issue a writ of mandamus." View "Ex parte Endo Health Solutions Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Zenon Bednarski and his practice, Auburn Urgent Care, Inc. ("AUC"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding Cortney Johnson ("Cortney"), as the administrator of the estate of Hope Johnson ("Hope"), deceased, $6.5 million. In October 2014, Hope and her mother visited Dr. Kerri Hensarling for evaluation and the prescription of a birth-control method. Hope's mother informed Dr. Hensarling that she had personally experienced multiple blood clots, and Dr. Hensarling ordered tests to determine if Hope was also at risk of experiencing blood clots. The test results revealed the presence of factor V Leiden, which contributes to the possibility of blood clotting. However, Dr. Hensarling failed to accurately determine the results of the test, and Hope and her mother were informed that the test results were negative for blood-clotting factors. Dr. Hensarling prescribed hormonal birth-control pills for Hope, the taking of which in combination with the presence of factor V Leiden would increase her risk of experiencing blood clots. Hope began taking the birth-control pills as prescribed, without knowledge of her increased risk for blood clots. In December 2014, Hope visited the AUC clinic, complaining of shortness of breath, chest pains, coughing, a headache, and a sore throat. Dr. Bednarski diagnosed Hope with bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic medication. Hope returned to the AUC clinic a few days later, complaining of a much worsened condition, with sharp chest pains and extreme shortness of breath. A blood test was conducted, and Hope was diagnosed with leukocytosis and dyspnea and was prescribed an inhaler. The next morning, Hope died of a pulmonary blood clot. In May 2016, Hope's father, Cortney, as the administrator of her estate, filed suit, naming as defendants Dr. Hensarling and her practice, and Dr. Bendarski and AUC. Cortney settled with Dr. Hensarling; the Bednarski defendants unsuccessfully moved for a judgment as a matter of law at the close of Cortney's case-in-chief. The jury returned a general verdict in favor of Cortney against the Bednarski defendants. Finding that the Bednarski defendants failed to demonstrate they were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Bednarski v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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John Dee and Brenda Peterson appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital ("Triad") on the Petersons' claims asserted in their medical-malpractice action. John was admitted to Flowers Hospital ("the hospital") in August 2014 for treatment of abdominal pain and fever that was caused by colitis. John was suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, end-stage renal disease, and diabetes. While he was admitted to the hospital in August 2014, John had a peripherally inserted central catheter ("PICC line") in his left shoulder. According to the Petersons, after John had suffered "constant pain and aggravation" around the area where the PICC line was inserted, a doctor agreed to have the PICC line removed the following morning. The Petersons asserted that, a nurse, Matthew Starr, was busy with other patients to immediately remove the line. The Petersons contended that another doctor was then called, that the doctor advised the nurses treating John to take out the PICC line, and that the nurses refused. The Petersons asserted that Starr "abandoned" John. Thereafter, John experienced a deep vein thrombosis ("DVT") in his upper left arm, which caused swelling and tissue necrosis. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Petersons did not make an argument supported by sufficient authority to demonstrate the trial court erred. "They failed to present expert medical testimony from a similarly situated health-care provider to establish the applicable standard of care, a deviation from that standard, and proximate causation linking the actions of hospital staff to John's injury." View "Peterson v. Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital" on Justia Law

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Yshekia Fletcher appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the Health Care Authority of the City of Huntsville d/b/a Huntsville Hospital ("the Authority") on Fletcher's claims asserted in her medical-malpractice action. In 2016, Fletcher was admitted to Huntsville Hospital to undergo a laparoscopic tubal-ligation surgery. Before the surgery, Fletcher's doctor, Dr. Leon Lewis, explained to Fletcher that he might have issues performing the surgery because of her obesity. During the procedure, Fletcher was placed in a Trendelenburg position - a position that lowers the head of the patient by manipulating the angle of the operating table. While in Trendelenburg, Fletcher began to slip downward off the operating table. Nursing staff caught Fletcher’s body and gently placed her on the operating room floor, where the surgeon removed the trocars and closed the incisions. After the procedure, Fletcher underwent a CT scan of her head, neck, and hip, which were normal. She was admitted overnight and discharged the following day. Fletcher later complained of hip pain after the incident. She was evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon, who noted that she had a contusion and that she had had right-hip surgery as a child. Fletcher was admitted to the hospital overnight and discharged the following day with a walker. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of the Authority based on Fletcher's failure to present expert medical testimony. View "Fletcher v. Health Care Authority of the City of Huntsville d/b/a Huntsville Hospital" on Justia Law

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Abbott Laboratories and Abbott Laboratories, Inc. (collectively, "Abbott"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to dismiss all claims asserted by the Mobile County Board of Health and the Family Oriented Primary Health Care Clinic (collectively, "Mobile Health") against Abbott on the basis that those claims are barred by the rule of repose or by the applicable statute of limitations. Mobile Health alleged that Abbott had participated in the marketing of a specific prescription drug, OxyContin. Mobile Health alleged that this marketing campaign "precipitated" an "opioid crisis" in the United States, and specifically in Alabama, because it caused an astronomical increase in the use of opioids by patients who quickly became dependent upon the drugs. Mobile Health asserted that it brought this action because of the burdens it had to bear as a result of the "opioid epidemic." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the applicable statutes of limitations barred Mobile Health's claims against Abbott. Therefore, the Court granted Abbott's petition for a writ of mandamus, and directed the circuit court to enter an order dismissing Mobile Health's claims against Abbott. View "Ex parte Abbott Laboratories and Abbott Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Barry Munza, Larry Lewis, and Debbie Mathis appealed a circuit court order dismissing their complaint seeking certain injunctive relief and challenging a proclamation issued by Governor Kay Ivey requiring the use of facial coverings in certain circumstances, as outlined in an order issued by Dr. Scott Harris, the State Health officer, to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their complaint seeking injunctive relief regarding the July 15 proclamation adopting the amended health order that, among other things, required masks or facial coverings to be worn in certain circumstances. Because the Supreme Court determined plaintiffs lacked standing, any discussion of remaining issues was pretermitted. View "Munza, et al. v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical defendants sought mandamus relief from an Alabama circuit court order that refused to transfer venue of the underlying lawsuit to the Jefferson County, Alabama circuit court, on grounds that venue in Conecuh County was not proper as to all plaintiffs, or alternatively, on the basis that convenience of the parties and/or the interest of justice required it. In 2019, the plaintiffs filed a complaint at the Conecuh Circuit Court against numerous defendants that, they averred, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or dispensed opioid medications throughout Alabama in a manner that was misleading, unsafe, and resulted in drug addiction, injury, and/or death to Alabama citizens. The complaint asserted claims of negligence, nuisance, unjust enrichment, fraud and deceit, wantonness, and civil conspiracy. The manufacturer defendants moved to transfer the case to Jefferson County, reasoning that because 8 of the 17 plaintiffs either had a place of business in Jefferson County or operated hospitals in Jefferson County or adjacent counties, logic dictated that a large percentage of the witnesses for those plaintiffs (i.e., prescribing doctors, hospital administrators, etc.) and their evidence were located in or around Jefferson County. After a review of the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined defendants did not demonstrate a clear, legal right to transfer the underlying case from Conecuh to Jefferson County. Therefore, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Johnson & Johnson et al." on Justia Law