Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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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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Dahlia McKinney, M.D., a defendant in the wrongful-death/medical negligence action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order compelling Dr. McKinney, ostensibly under Alabama's discovery rules, to alter the contents of a registered death certificate she prepared in connection with the death of Paydro White ("Paydro"). On December 31, 2013, Paydro sought medical treatment at the emergency department of Princeton Baptist Medical Center where he was diagnosed with possible pneumonia; he was discharged on that same date. The following afternoon, Paydro returned to the emergency department seeking follow-up care; he was formally admitted for treatment by the emergency physician on duty at that time. Later that evening, after Dr. McKinney began her evening shift, Paydro become unresponsive. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, Paydro later died in the early morning hours of January 2, 2014. Dr. McKinney, who completed and signed Paydro's death certificate, identified the contributing causes of Paydro's death as "Pulseless electrical activity" due to "Acute Myocardial Infarction." Subsequent postmortem examinations and the autopsy of Paydro's body revealed that "the most likely cause of ... death [was] pulmonary Thromboembolism" -- a final diagnosis with which Dr. McKinney's later deposition testimony indicated she agreed. Dorothy White ("Dorothy"), Paydro's mother, was the personal representative of Paydro's estate. In that capacity, she sued numerous defendants allegedly connected with Paydro's medical treatment, including Dr. McKinney, largely arguing Paydro's death had been caused by the defendants' purported failure to timely diagnose and treat the pulmonary thromboembolism that ultimately caused Paydro's death. Dr. McKinney, who had provided no medical treatment to Paydro other than in connection with emergency resuscitation attempts, informally requested her voluntary dismissal as a defendant. In an email communication to Dr. McKinney's counsel, the estate's counsel indicated that a decision on that request would be aided by Dr. McKinney's voluntary amendment of the original cause of death indicated on Paydro's death certificate to identify his cause of death as a pulmonary thromboembolism. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the death certificate. Dr. McKinney therefore demonstrated a clear legal right to her requested relief. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the cause of death on Paydro's death certificate. View "Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D." 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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Mobile Infirmary Association ("MIA"), doing business as J.L. Bedsole Rotary Rehabilitation Hospital ("Rotary Rehab") and doing business as Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("Mobile Infirmary"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief from a complaint filed by John McBride alleging medical malpractice. According to McBride's complaint, he had undergone a craniotomy, hospitalization, and treatment at Mobile Infirmary for a subdural hematoma he had suffered while at home. He alleged that, in early June 2018, he was transferred to Rotary Rehab "to receive skilled and specialized nursing, medical and rehabilitative therapy." McBride further alleged that, while he was a patient at Rotary Rehab, he "suffered a decubitus pressure ulcer to his left and right heels, causing severe pain and suffering, infection, hospital treatment, financial loss, emotional distress, and eventually amputation below his left knee." McBride's complaint asserted counts of negligence and wantonness against the defendants, based on several alleged breaches of the applicable standards of care. MIA, in its capacity doing business as Rotary Rehab and in its capacity doing business as Mobile Infirmary, moved to dismiss McBride's complaint, arguing that his claims are barred by the limitations period set out in 6-5-482(a), Ala. Code 1975. Specifically, MIA contended the complaint was not filed until July 22, 2020, more than two years after the date of accrual of any potential claims against Mobile Infirmary or Rotary Rehab. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the statutory bar was apparent from the face of McBride's complaint. Therefore, MIA demonstrated a clear legal right to an order dismissing the complaint. Accordingly, MIA's mandamus petition was granted, and the writ of mandamus was issued directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying MIA's motion to dismiss, and to enter an order granting the motion. View "Ex parte Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a J.L. Bedsole Rotary Rehabilitation Hospital and d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center." 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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Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc. ("Jackson Hospital") appealed the denial of its postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial following the entry of a judgment on a jury verdict against Jackson Hospital and in favor of plaintiff, Cameron Murphy. In February 2011, Murphy, after experiencing back pain, was referred for treatment to Dr. Margaret Vereb, a board-certified urologist employed by Jackson Hospital. Dr. Vereb determined that Murphy had kidney stones and recommended a ureteroscopy procedure to remove the stones. During that procedure, Dr. Vereb used a glidewire to establish the correct surgical path to Murphy's kidneys through his urinary tract. Dr. Vereb then used a laser to break the kidney stones into smaller fragments for removal. Following an uneventful period of recovery, the surgery was deemed successful, and Murphy was released. During a postoperative evaluation two days later, it was reported that Murphy had been experiencing pain, but he was assured that such symptoms were normal. Murphy was prescribed pain medication and discharged. In June 2011, however, Murphy experienced painful urination and blood in his urine. An X-ray performed at that time revealed that a piece of the glidewire used during the ureteroscopy procedure remained lodged in Murphy's bladder. Upon seeking treatment from another urologist, a 5.6 centimeter glidewire fragment was removed from Murphy's bladder. Murphy subsequently sued both Dr. Vereb and Jackson Hospital alleging claims under the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA"). The Alabama Supreme Court found Murphy presented no evidence -- in the form of expert testimony or otherwise -- that Jackson Hospital breached the applicable standard of care in any manner, Murphy failed to present evidence substantiating an essential element of his defective-equipment claim against Jackson Hospital, and therefore the jury's verdict on that claim was unsupported. Therefore, Jackson Hospital was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law in its favor. The judgment entered on the jury's verdict against Jackson Hospital was reversed. View "Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc. v. Murphy" 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

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Janice and Timothy McGill appealed a circuit court judgment against them in their medical-malpractice lawsuit against Victor Szymela, M.D. The McGills alleged that Dr. Szymela failed to properly perform Janice's temporomandibular-joint total-replacement ("TJR") surgery. Janice sought treatment to relieve her temporomandibular-joint ("TMJ") disorder. Janice had been experiencing clicking and locking of her jaw and excruciating jaw and ear pain. Janice alleged that she experienced distinct, worse pain immediately after the surgery and that the new pain did not resolve with time. She continued to experience popping in her jaw. She alleged that her overbite was exacerbated by the surgery. She also alleged that she could not open her mouth as wide as previously and that she lost sensation in her lips, which diminished her ability to speak clearly. Janice sought treatment from Dr. Michael Koslin, who referred Janice to a pain-management specialist. Ultimately, Janice's providers determined that her pain was unresponsive to conservative treatment. In 2017, Dr. Koslin surgically removed the prosthesis. Several weeks later, Dr. Koslin implanted custom joints. Janice alleged Dr. Koslin's treatment relieved her pain. In March 2016, Janice sued Dr. Szymela, alleging that he breached the standard of care for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by failing to properly assess the source of Janie's pain or install the prosthesis correctly. The McGills identified Dr. Louis G. Mercuri as one of their expert witnesses regarding oral and maxillofacial surgery. On Dr. Szymela's motion, the trial court ruled that Dr. Mercuri did not qualify as a "similarly situated health care provider" under § 6-5-548(c)(4), Ala. Code 1975, because he had not practiced in Dr. Szymela's specialty within the year preceding Dr. Szymela's alleged breach. Thus, the court excluded Dr. Mercuri as a witness. At the close of all evidence, on Dr. Szymela's motion, the trial court entered a partial judgment as a matter of law ("JML") in favor of Dr. Szymela. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court did not exceed its discretion by excluding the testimony of Dr. Mercuri on the basis that he was not statutorily qualified as an expert. And because the McGills did not present or point to substantial evidence of the standard of care for Dr. Szymela's performance of Janice's TJR surgery, the trial court properly entered a JML on the claims relating to the surgery. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "McGill v. Szymela" on Justia Law

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Regina Hannah appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Naughton, M.D.; Michael Naughton, M.D., Ph.D., LLC; Terisa Thomas, M.D., and and Terisa A. Thomas, M.D., P.C. (collectively, "the defendants"), on Hannah's claims alleging medical malpractice. In 2005, Hannah was seen by Dr. Thomas, a board-certified general surgeon, for a female health-care examination. Hannah was 32 years old at the time, and complained of fatigue, weight gain, heavy menstrual cycles, cramping, and painful sexual relations. Hannah also reported a significant family medical history of cervical cancer and stated that she was fearful of getting cancer. Hannah stated that her mother, grandmother, and sister had suffered from cervical cancer. Dr. Thomas ordered a number of tests, including a pelvic ultrasound and a Pap smear. Dr. Thomas received the results of Hannah's Pap smear, which indicated an "abnormal" result: "Epithelial Cell Abnormality. Atypical Squamous Cells Cannot Exclude High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HSIL)." Dr. Thomas stated that this was not a diagnosis of cancer but, rather, that she considered it an abnormal finding indicative of an "increased risk" of cancer. Dr. Thomas related to Dr. Naughton that she had a patient she wanted to refer to him for a second opinion following an abnormal Pap smear. Dr. Naughton testified that Hannah chose the most aggressive option for treatment, specifically stating that she wanted "it all out:" a hysterectomy, including her ovaries. Dr. Naughton had Hannah execute a "surgical-awareness" form indicating that she accepted full responsibility for her decision to have the surgery. Hannah underwent surgery; there was no indication of any diagnosis of cervical cancer mentioned in the surgical record. Hannah's surgery was completed without complication. Hannah would have one more follow up appointment with Dr. Naughton; she also met with Dr. Thomas. Frustrated with a lack of response from additional calls to Dr. Naughton's office, Hannah consulted with Dr. Max Austin, a gynecologic oncologist. After review of her medical records, Dr. Austin told Hannah she "never had nor did she have cervical cancer." Hannah then filed suit against Drs. Thomas and Naughton, alleging they breached their standard of care by falsely informing her she had cervical cancer based on the abnormal Pap-smear, and by advising her to undergo a hysterectomy. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Hannah v. Naughton, M.D., et al." on Justia Law