Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Betty Collins appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Ricardo Herring, D.C., and Herring Chiropractic Center, LLC. Collins sought damages for alleged medical malpractice with respect to treatment of knee, shoulder and back pain. Collins's knee was treated with a cold pack. The evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to Collins, indicated that the cold pack had been in the refrigerator for seven days, that it had not been thawed when Collins arrived for her appointment, and that it was hard on the day of her treatment in contrast to her treatment on other visits. Collins felt heat when the cold pack was removed from her knee. Collins developed blisters on her knee following the treatment and later scarring. In their summary-judgment motion, defendants argued that Collins had not produced any evidence demonstrating that Dr. Herring's treatment fell below the applicable standard of care. The defendants argued that Collins failed to present testimony from a similarly situated expert witness because Collins had not designated an expert witness as required under the Alabama Medical Liability Act to testify that Dr. Herring breached his duty of care in treating Collins.The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. "In the instant case, the procuring and application of the cold pack was within the exclusive control of the defendants, and no evidence was presented indicating that Collins contributed to her injuries. Blistering and subsequent scarring does not ordinarily occur following the application of a cold pack, absent negligence. The causative relationship between Collins's injury and the defendants' acts are such that it can be readily understood, to the extent that a layperson can reliably determine the issue of causation without independent expert testimony to assist in that determination." View "Collins v. Herring Chiropractic Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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Kimberly Stinnett appealed the dismissal of her claim against Karla Kennedy, M.D., alleging the wrongful death of her unborn previable child. Based on its previous holdings, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in dismissing Stinnett's claim alleging wrongful death based on the death of her previable unborn child. The Court found the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the doctor on lack-of-proof-of-causation grounds. Furthermore, the Court found no basis to affirm summary judgment based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Accordingly, the trial court was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Stinnett v. Kennedy" on Justia Law

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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

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ENT Associates of Alabama, P.A., A. Craig Chapman, M.D., and Baptist Ventures, Inc., d/b/a Montgomery Surgical Center, LLP ("MSC"), separately appealed a circuit court's interlocutory order denying their motions for a summary judgment. In 2011, Lauryn Hoke received medical care from Dr. Chapman, ENT Associates, and MSC (collectively, "the defendants"). On April 10, 2013, one day shy of two years after she was provided medical care by the defendants, Hoke filed a medical-malpractice claim against the defendants, complaining that the defendants deviated from the acceptable standard of medical care when, despite being aware of the fact that she was allergic to latex, they failed to provide a latex-free environment during both her surgery and her recovery and that, as a result, she suffered a severe allergic reaction that caused serious injuries. The complaint was signed by John Loeschen as "counsel for plaintiff" with an asterisk next to Loeschen's signature, noting below his address (which was Roanoke, Virginia) "motion pro hac vice to follow." The complaint included a certificate of service, signed by Loeschen, but did not include the name or signature of an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama. It was undisputed that the complaint was filed electronically by an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama, Benjamin Pool. The complaint did not include the addresses of the defendants or any instructions to the circuit clerk for service of process. On June 4, 2013, approximately 55 days after Hoke's complaint was filed, Loeschen filed a verified application for admission to practice under Rule VII of the Rules Governing Admission to the Alabama State Bar. On June 28, 2013, Dr. Chapman and ENT Associates filed a motion to strike the complaint and a motion to dismiss. On July 10, 2013, MSC also filed a motion to dismiss. The defendants argued that the complaint was signed and filed by an out-of-state attorney who had not been admitted to appear pro hac vice as an attorney in Alabama and that, under Rule VII, the complaint was a nullity and due to be stricken. Furthermore, they argued that because the two-year statute of limitations that applied to Hoke's medical-malpractice action had expired, the case should have been dismissed in its entirety with prejudice. The circuit court denied defendants' motions. Finding that Hoke's complaint was not "commenced" for statute-of-limitations purposes before the applicable statute of limitations expired, the Supreme Court found that the underlying action here was time-barred. The circuit court's judgment denying defendants' motions for summary judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Baptist Ventures, Inc. v. Hoke" on Justia Law

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Defendants Providence Hospital and Bio-Medical Applications of Alabama, Inc., d/b/a BMA Magnolia a/k/a Fresenius Medical Care Magnolia Grove separately petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor. Pamela Howard died in 2012. One of Pamela's sons, Michael Darrick Howard ("Darrick"), petitioned the probate court to probate her will and to grant him letters testamentary. Attached to Darrick's petition was a document in which Pamela's other son, William Corey Howard ("Corey"), agreed that Darrick should be granted letters testamentary. In 2014, the probate court granted Darrick letters testamentary, establishing him as the personal representative of Pamela's estate. Under 6-5-410, Ala. Code 1975, only Darrick, as personal representative, had the authority to bring a wrongful-death action. However, Corey filed a wrongful-death action against the defendants, which had provided health-care services to their mother shortly before her death. Defendants subsequently moved for summary judgment, arguing that that Corey's wrongful-death action was a nullity because it had not been initiated by Darrick as personal representative of Pamela's estate. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the wrongful-death action filed against the defendants was indeed a nullity, it granted the petitions and issue mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Providence Hospital." on Justia Law

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Northstar Anesthesia of Alabama, LLC ("Northstar"), and Maria Bolyard, CRNA; Parkway Medical Clinic, Inc., d/b/a Parkway Medical Center ("Parkway"); and Jeffrey Markham, M.D. ("Dr. Markham") (collectively referred to as "appellants"), filed three petitions for a permissive appeal of Circuit Court orders denying their motions for a summary judgment in a wrongful-death action brought by Paula Noble ("Paula"), as personal representative of the estate of Thomas Noble ("Thomas"). Thomas died in late 2011. In early 2012, Paula was appointed personal representative of Thomas' estate. When the business of the estate had closed, Paula petitioned to be discharged as personal representative. Then in 2013 (three days before the statute of limitations was set to run), Paula filed a wrongful-death action against the appellants. A month after filing her complaint, and having become aware of the fact that she lacked the representative capacity to maintain the wrongful-death action because she had been discharged and released as the personal representative of Thomas's estate before she commenced the action, Paula filed a petition to "re-open" Thomas's estate "so that she [could] continue as Personal Representative" for purposes of pursuing the wrongful-death action she filed. Appellants moved to dismiss, citing Paula's capacity to bring suit on behalf of the estate. After review, the Supreme Court found that Paula's initial complaint was a nullity. As a result, appellants were not under an obligation to raise the affirmative defense of capacity because the filing of Paula's complaint was "an act or proceeding in a cause which the opposite party may treat as though it had not taken place, or which has absolutely no legal force or effect." As such, the Court reversed the circuit court's order denying appellants' summary-judgment motions and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Markham v. Noble" on Justia Law

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George E. Cutler appealed the dismissal of his medical-malpractice action against the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C. ("the University"), and Paul G. Matz, M.D. Cutler alleged defendants had been negligent and wanton in failing to inform him of a two-centimeter tumor/lesion in the right frontal region of his brain that was discovered by a magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan of his brain taken in 2005; rather, he was told at that time that the tumor/lesion was a bruise. Cutler attached a copy of the MRI report to his complaint, which the trial court did not exclude. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the complaint alleged facts that demonstrated a manifest, legal injury and the accrual of Cutler's cause of action within the four-year period of repose set forth in 6-5-482(a), Ala. Code 1975. The trial court dismissed the action against defendants, finding that it was barred by the for-year period of repose in 6-5-482(a). After reviewing the allegations of Cutler's complaint in light of the applicable standard of review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Cutler would have been unable to prove any set of facts to support his claim that his legal injury occurred beyond the expiration of the four-year period of repose. As such, the Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of his case. View "Cutler v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C." on Justia Law

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This case concerned the application of the relation-back doctrine to wrongful-death claims. The trial court allowed James O. Kidd, Sr., the personal representative of the estate of Madeline Kidd, to use relation back to sustain his claims against various health-care providers. Some of those providers, defendants Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, Dr. Roger Alvarado, Dr. Barbara Mitchell, and IMC-Diagnostic and Medical Clinic, P.C., sought review of the trial court's order by filing separate petitions for permissive appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in permitting the relation-back doctrine, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Mobile Infirmary Association v. Estate of Madeline Kidd" on Justia Law

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Dr. Thomas A. Staner, a board-certified neurosurgeon and neurologist, performed a lumbar laminectomy on Wilfred Borden at Brookwood Medical Center. Two days later, he complained of excruciating pain in his lower back and legs. He was taken to the emergency room. A hematoma was discovered and causing compression of the cauda equina. As a result of the damage caused by the hematoma, Wilfred was permanently disabled and unable to work, suffered from constant pain, had problems walking, and suffered from incontinence of bladder and bowel and from impotence. Wilfred and Pam sued Dr. Staner, Alabama Neurosurgeons, P.C., Dr. Staner's practice, and Brookwood in the Jefferson Circuit Court. Wilfred asserted a claim under the Alabama Medical Liability Act against the defendants, and Pam asserted a claim based on loss of consortium. Brookwood filed a motion for a summary judgment. The trial court entered an order granting Brookwood's summary-judgment motion as to any claim alleging a duty and breach of the standard of care on the part of Brookwood's ER department. However, it denied the motion for a summary judgment as to the Bordens' claims against Brookwood based an alleged breach of the standard of care by Brookwood's medical/surgical nurses. At the close of the Bordens' evidence, Brookwood moved for a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court granted the motion as to the issue of future medical expenses but denied it as to the Bordens' remaining claims. Brookwood renewed its motion for a judgment as a matter of law at the close of all the evidence, and the trial court denied that motion. After deliberating for approximately six hours, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Wilfred as to his medical malpractice claim and fixed damages at $5 million. It also found in favor of Pam as to her loss-of-consortium claim and fixed damages at $2.5 million. The trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict. Brookwood appealed. In this case, the Bordens did not present expert testimony to establish a breach of the applicable standard of care. Therefore, Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred when it denied Brookwood's motions for a judgment as a matter of law as to Wilfred's medical-malpractice claim. The case was remanded for the trial court to render judgment as a matter of law in favor of Brookwood. View "Brookwood Medical Center v. Borden" on Justia Law