The Alabama Supreme Court in a 4-3 opinion reversed a $3.2 million wrongful death verdict that came out of Montgomery County. First, let me say that neither I nor our law firm were involved in this case. Neither does our firm sue doctors or hospitals in Alabama for medical malpractice. Because this decision has sent shock waves across the state – both in the legal community and with the public – I feel compelled to write on what the Court did. Hopefully, it’s not as bad as it appears to be for all citizens of Alabama.
According to dissenting members of the Court, the ruling doesn’t just throw out a jury’s award, but sets a precedent that could shield Alabama hospitals from ever being sued regardless of their conduct. The Court voided the previous judgment, not based on whether the hospital was at fault, but on whether the hospital could even be sued. A majority of the Court ruled that governmental immunity should be extended to Baptist Health because of its relationship with state universities.
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, one of the three dissenting Justices, went as far as to write that the majority’s opinion essentially implies that Baptist Health “is no longer legally responsible for the harm that may be caused by its negligence in providing health care to the citizens of this state.” The hospital had appealed a 2009 Montgomery County jury’s verdict that Baptist Health was negligent in failing to notify 73-year-old Lauree Ellison or her doctor that a throat culture had come back positive for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. The culture was done during a visit to the Baptist Medical Center East emergency room in September of 2005. About two months later, Ms. Ellison was re-admitted to Baptist Medical Center East and diagnosed as having MRSA Pneumonia. She died five days later. The decision says the hospital can’t be sued because it had governmental immunity through its relationship to the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System.
Shay Samples, a very good lawyer from Birmingham, represented the family. Shay says he was “shocked” by the opinion, especially since there was little debate over the issue of sovereign immunity in court. I understand that the lawyers for Baptist Health never seriously argued that immunity was an issue. If that’s correct, I too am shocked. It appears that other hospitals can now acquire the same immunity if they enter into similar partnerships with universities. Shay says the Court has “put the citizens of Alabama in an untenable position,” and that folks have been “stripped of their rights without a remedy.” It may be asking too much of this Court, but a rehearing of the case seems to be in order. There are two new members of the Court, who in my opinion will follow established law and do the right thing, and that could make a difference on rehearing.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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