Justia Health Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Brookwood Health Services, Inc.
On October 8, 2016, Rita Kay filed a complaint against "Brookwood Baptist Health LLC" and fictitiously named defendants pursuant to the Alabama Medical Liability Act, based on injuries she allegedly suffered at the hands of another patient while she was being treated in the Psychiatric and Behavioral Health Inpatient Services Unit at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center from October 8, 2014, until October 12, 2014. She asserted claims of medical negligence, false imprisonment, negligence and wantonness, breach of contract, and negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, and/or supervision. Brookwood Health Services, Inc., filed a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to dismiss Kay's action against it. Assuming, without deciding, that service on Brookwood Baptist Health LLC, the original defendant, was proper, the materials before the Alabama Supreme Court established that Brookwood Baptist Health LLC did not receive the complaint until February 13, 2017 -- 128 days after the lawsuit was commenced. Therefore, the Court concluded Brookwood established it was added as a defendant after the expiration of the applicable limitations period and that relation-back principles do not apply. Therefore, it has demonstrated that it had a clear legal right to the relief sought. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its September 7, 2017, order denying the motion to dismiss filed by Brookwood Health Services, Inc., and to dismiss Kay's complaint. View "Ex parte Brookwood Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center.
In consolidated petitions, defendant Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("MIMC") sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate portions of its May 5, 2017, discovery orders. More specifically, in case no. 1160731, MIMC sought mandamus review of the portion of the trial court's order compelling MIMC to produce certain documents previously submitted to the trial court for in camera review on the ground that the documents are protected from discovery under section 6-5-551 and/or section 22-21-8, Ala. Code 1975. In case no. 1160815, MIMC sought mandamus review of another May 5, 2017, order denying MIMC's motions seeking reconsideration of, or in the alternative, a protective order regarding the trial court's November 10, 2016 order compelling MIMC's response to various discover requests. The underlying case centered on a negligence action brought by the administrator of the estate of Rhonda Lynn Snow who sought surgery at an MIMC facility in 2013. At around 5:50 a.m. on December 11, 2013, a nurse allegedly administered a dose of Dilaudid to Rhonda; thereafter, at 6:40 a.m. Rhonda was found "non-responsive" in her room and the staff at the medical center were unable to resuscitate her. Rhonda remained on life support until her death on January 3, 2014. The Alabama Supreme Court determined MIMC demonstrated the trial court exceeded its discretion in requiring MIMC to respond to the discovery requests at issue, and accordingly, issued writs in both cases. View "Ex parte Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center." on Justia Law
Baptist Health System, Inc. v. Cantu
Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Walker Baptist Medical Center ("WBMC"), appealed a circuit court's denial of its postjudgment motion seeking relief from the judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Armando Cantu ("Armando"), as father and next friend of Daniel Jose Cantu ("Daniel"), a minor, on Armando's medical-malpractice claim. In 2009, Armando and his wife, Eulalia, took then three-month-old Daniel to WBMC's emergency room for treatment following symptoms including decreased appetite, coughing, and a fever that had lingered for several days. At that time, Daniel was diagnosed by the attending emergency-room physician as suffering from a viral illness (specifically, an upper-respiratory infection) and was discharged with instructions to continue fluids and to seek further treatment if the symptoms continued. Thereafter, Daniel's condition allegedly further deteriorated into vomiting, suspected dehydration, decreased activity, and "irritab[ility] whenever his neck was touched." Daniel received a second-opinion from his pediatrician, who performed a "spinal tap," revealing Daniel had bacterial meningitis. Daniel was taken to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, where he was treated with antibiotics, and released with a "discharge diagnosis" of: "meningococcal meningitis, hydrocephalus status post ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, seizure disorder, blindness, and deafness as a result of bacterial meningitis." In October 2011, Armando sued both WBMC and Dr. James Wilbanks (the attending physician at Daniel's first trip to the Emergency Room), alleging a single count pursuant to Alabama's Medical Liability Act. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict finding that Dr. Wilbanks's actions did not meet the applicable standard of care, found WBMC liable for the conduct of Dr. Wilbanks, and awarded Armando $10,000,000 in damages. WBMC filed a postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Among the other claims included in that motion, WBMC specifically asserted that it was entitled to a new trial based on the trial court's admission, over WBMC's objections, of evidence of prior medical-malpractice lawsuits filed against WBMC. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the facts related to the jury regarding prior acts and omissions by WBMC were entirely irrelevant for the purpose of curative admissibility, were highly prejudicial to WBMC, and warranted reversal of the judgment against WBMC. The judgment of the trial court was, therefore, reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Baptist Health System, Inc. v. Cantu" on Justia Law
Ansley v. Inmed Group, Inc. d/b/a Bullock County Hospital, et al.
This wrongful-death action was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of "all defendants," which included the entity that operates Bullock County Hospital, ERMDS, LLC, and the estate of Dr. Ireneo Domingo, Jr. The trial court entered a judgment on that verdict. James Ansley ("James") presented to the emergency room of Bullock County Hospital ("BCH"), complaining of chest pain he had been experiencing for one or two days. James's condition deteriorated, and, at approximately 4:30 p.m., the decision was made to transfer James to a different hospital, Baptist Medical Center South ("Baptist South"). James later died at Baptist South of pulmonary emboli (blood clots that had traveled to his lungs). Plaintiff Alisa Ansley, administrator of James’ estate, filed a postjudgment motion for a new trial. In her brief, Ansley suggested that she was entitled to relief because, she says, Dr. Domingo breached the standard of care in failing to transfer James to Baptist South immediately upon creating a differential diagnosis, which identified pulmonary embolism as a possible cause of his symptoms. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Ansley did not demonstrate the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying her motion for a new trial. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Ansley v. Inmed Group, Inc. d/b/a Bullock County Hospital, et al." on Justia Law
Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C.
Plaintiff Lisa Wilson appealed dismissal of her complaint seeking damages against defendants, University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C. ("UAHSF"); Carla Falkson, M.D.; Tina Wood, M.D.; Ravi Kumar Paluri, M.D.; and Mollie DeShazo, M.D., based on the tort of outrage. Wilson's complaint alleged that, in late 2011, her elderly mother, Elizabeth Monk Wilson ("Elizabeth"), was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for colon cancer. According to Wilson, before the onset of Elizabeth's illness, Elizabeth had executed an advanced health-care directive that "instruct[ed] ... caregivers to use all available means to preserve [Elizabeth's] life" and further named Wilson as Elizabeth's health-care proxy "in the event [Elizabeth] became 'too sick to speak for' herself." Elizabeth subsequently suffered a recurrence of her cancer. In August 2015, she was admitted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, a facility operated by UAHSF. In her complaint, Wilson alleged that, while Elizabeth was in the hospital, she was treated by the doctors. She further alleged that the doctors made numerous and repeated tactless comments to Elizabeth and Wilson about Elizabeth's condition and her impending death, and to the effect that she was wasting resources by being in the hospital instead of dying at home. Wilson's complaint alleged a single claim for damages "for the tort of outrage, and for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress" and sought compensatory and punitive damages. Wilson sought to hold UAHSF vicariously liable for the alleged conduct of the doctors, which conduct, she alleged, occurred within the line and scope of the doctors' employment with UAHSF. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court's holding that the tort of outrage "is limited to three situations" was an incorrect statement of law: the tort can be viable outside the context of the above-identified circumstances and has previously been held to be so viable. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings where the trial court should, under the standard appropriate for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), determine whether the alleged conduct was "so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society." View "Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C." on Justia Law
Ex parte Altapointe Health Systems, Inc.
Altapointe Health Systems, Inc., and Altapointe Healthcare Management, LLC (collectively referred to as "Altapointe"), petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its order compelling Altapointe to respond to certain discovery requests and to enter a protective order in its favor in an action pending against it. Jim Avnet, as father and next friend of Hunter Avnet, sued Altapointe. Altapointe operated group homes for adults suffering from mental illness. Avnet asserted that Hunter, a resident at one of Altapointe's group homes, was assaulted by another resident with a blunt object, and was stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife. Avnet asserted various claims of negligence and wantonness against Altapointe, including claims that Altapointe failed to comply with various unspecified regulations and guidelines designed to protect Hunter's safety and that Altapointe was negligent or wanton in hiring, training, and supervising its employees. Along with his complaint, Avnet served Altapointe with written discovery requests. Avnet's discovery requests sought the total amount of Altapointe's liability-insurance coverage limits; information regarding prior claims or lawsuits against Altapointe alleging personal injury or assault at the home; information concerning whether Altapointe was aware of any previous "aggressive acts" by the resident; and information and documents regarding Altapointe's own investigation of the incident. Altapointe objected to Avnet's discovery requests, contending that the information and documents requested were protected by certain discovery privileges. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Altapointe offered sufficient evidence demonstrating that it was entitled to the quality-assurance privilege provided in 22-21-8, Ala. Code 1975 as to Avnet's request for information and documents relating to Altapointe's own investigation of the incident. Accordingly, the petition for writ of mandamus was granted as to that request. As to the remaining requests, however, Altapointe did not sufficiently establish that the discovery protections of the AMLA or the psychotherapist-patient privilege applied. Thus, as to those requests, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Altapointe Health Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama
Plaintiffs Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. ("MHCA"), and Alabama Psychiatric Services, P.C. ("APS") appealed the denial of their motion to compel Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama ("Blue Cross") to arbitrate their claims. In 1986, Blue Cross contracted with APS, a subsidiary of MHCA, to provide mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In 1991, Blue Cross's contract with APS was transferred to MHCA. In 1995, Blue Cross and MHCA entered into a new contract in which MHCA agreed to provide or arrange for mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In 2006, Blue Cross and MHCA entered into yet another contract in which MHCA agreed to provide or arrange for mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In late 2012, Blue Cross decided to replace MHCA, as its behavioral health benefits management vendor, with New Directions Behavioral Health, L.L.C. In 2013, Blue Cross and New Directions Behavioral Health, L.L.C. ("New Directions"), entered into a contract in which New Directions agreed to "arrange for the provision of all Covered Services to Members in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement," which gave New Directions authority to delegate certain services to third parties. pursuant to the authority granted it under the Blue Cross-New Directions 2013 contract and at the request of Blue Cross, New Directions entered into a contract which MHCA in which New Directions sub-delegated to MHCA certain of New Directions' obligations under the Blue Cross-New Directions 2013 contract. A disagreement arose concerning the amount of compensation MHCA was to receive for its services. In 2015, the plaintiffs sued Blue Cross and several fictitiously named defendants alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent suppression, breach of an implied contract, and promissory estoppel, claims pertaining to plaintiffs' 2006 contract and for payments of delegated duties. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs demonstrated they had a right to arbitration. The circuit court erred in denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel arbitration, and the Court reversed the circuit court's judgment denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel arbitration in its entirety. View "Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama" on Justia Law
Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company.
The Alabama Supreme Court granted Alfa Mutual Insurance Company's petition for a writ of certiorari with respect to the issue whether University of South Alabama Medical Center Hospital's (USA) hospital lien was impaired and the amount of damages recoverable by USA from Alfa for that impairment. The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals insofar as it affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the amount of damages recoverable from Alfa was an amount equal to the entirety of USA's reasonable charges, irrespective of the amount that was otherwise owed by Alfa under the terms of its policy, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law
Bain v. Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority
Melissa Bain, in her capacity as the personal representative of the estate of her deceased husband Christopher Heath ("Heath"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority d/b/a Helen Keller Hospital ("HKH"). Dr. Preston Wigfall was the emergency-room physician working at the hospital on the night Heath was taken to the emergency room. Dr. Wigfall ordered certain tests to be run, but he was unable to determine from the results of those tests the cause of Heath's symptoms. Heath was discharged approximately six hours after his arrival with an "unspecified" diagnosis with instructions to follow up with his primary-care physician. Approximately 20 days after his visit to the emergency room at the hospital, Heath died when a 45-millimeter ascending aortic aneurysm dissected. Bain, in her capacity as the personal representative of Heath's estate, filed a medical-malpractice action against HKH and several other defendants, arguing that that the emergency-department nurses at the hospital and Dr. Wigfall breached the applicable standards of care when they treated Heath; that Dr. Wigfall, at all relevant times, was acting within the line and scope of his duties and employment as an actual or apparent agent or employee of HKH; and that HKH was vicariously liable for the actions of its nurses and Dr. Wigfall. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Bain failed to demonstrate that the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of HKH as to all of Bain's claims and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "Bain v. Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority" on Justia Law
Ex parte Genesis Pittman, D.M.D., P.C., et al.
Genesis Pittman, D.M.D., P.C. ("Pittman, P.C."), petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order setting aside a prior summary judgment entered in favor of Pittman, P.C. In August 2014, respondent Debra Blackmon filed a pro se action against Pittman, P.C., alleging negligence and dental malpractice. Blackmon further alleged that she suffered an allergic reaction necessitating emergency medical treatment as well as a related fall resulting in physical injury after treatment from Pittman. Blackmon apparently failed, in accordance with the trial court's scheduling order, to timely disclose the identity of an expert witness she had retained. After the expiration of the disclosure deadline, Pittman, P.C., filed a motion requesting a summary judgment in its favor on the primary ground that, based on the above-described failure to identify an expert, Blackmon could not prove her case. Blackmon, who had, by that time, retained legal counsel, filed a response in opposition that included her own affidavit testimony and medical records. After a hearing, the trial court, entered a summary judgment in favor of Pittman, P.C., as to all counts against it. Blackmon filed a postjudgment motion to alter, amend, or vacate the summary judgment in favor of Pittman, P.C. The trial court scheduled Blackmon's motion for, and ultimately conducted a hearing in May 2016. According to Pittman, P.C., however, by the time of the hearing, Blackmon's motion had been denied by operation of law in April 2016. On May 6, 2016 –- 110 days after the filing of Blackmon's postjudgment motion –- the trial court entered an order purporting to grant Blackmon's postjudgment motion. In response, Pittman, P.C., applied for mandamus relief, contending, in part, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant Blackmon's motion. The Supreme Court concluded that Pittman, P.C. demonstrated a clear legal right to the requested relief and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Genesis Pittman, D.M.D., P.C., et al." on Justia Law