The Alabama Supreme Court, in an opinion issued last month, has upheld a jury’s $3.2 million medical malpractice judgment involving a Montgomery hospital. The court ruled that the university-affiliated Health Care Authority for Baptist Health that ran the hospital did not qualify for the legal immunity granted to state entities. The court on a 6-3 vote rejected the hospital’s request for a rehearing.
This case dates back to 2005 when a 73-year-old woman was treated in the emergency room of Baptist Medical Center East. She tested positive for a dangerous drug-resistant bacteria, but the results were not communicated to her treating physician. The woman later died. In 2011, the court ruled for the hospital, vacating the judgment. The court then said that immunity should be extended to Baptist Health because of its relationship with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System. In this opinion, two immunity issues were decided by the court:
Many legal scholars believe the effect of the court’s opinion is that legislative attempts to grant immunities and to cap damages are limited by the Constitution. The court ruled that the legislature by the passage of laws can only affect the immunities of cities and counties. This opinion indicates that the legislature cannot grant immunity to any person or entity other than cities and counties, nor can it cap damages. To do so, according to the court, would be unconstitutional.
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