Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
by
In July 2012, Dr. William Sullivan prescribed Remicade, a medication manufactured by Janssen Biotech, Inc. ("JBI"), to Tim McKenzie as a treatment for Tim's psoriatic arthritis. Tim thereafter received Remicade intravenously every two weeks until November 2014, when he developed severe neuropathy causing significant weakness, the inability to walk without assistance, and the loss of feeling in, and use of, his hands and arms. Although Tim stopped receiving Remicade at that time, he and his wife, Sherrie, alleged they were not told that Remicade was responsible for his injuries. In December 2015, Tim traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to receive treatment for his neuropathy. The McKenzies stated that while at the Mayo Clinic, Tim was eventually diagnosed with demyelinating polyneuropathy, and doctors told them that it was likely caused by the Remicade. In 2016, the McKenzies sued JBI and Dr. Sullivan in Alabama Circuit Court, asserting failure-to-warn, negligence, breach-of-warranty, fraud, and loss-of-consortium claims. The complaint filed by the McKenzies was not signed, but it indicated it had been prepared by Sherrie, who was not only a named plaintiff, but also an attorney and active member of the Alabama State Bar. Keith Altman, an attorney from California admitted pro hac vice in November 2017, assisted with the preparation of the complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found it apparent from even a cursory review of the complaint, that it was copied from a complaint filed in another action. The complaint included numerous factual and legal errors, including an assertion that Tim was dead even though he was alive, and claims invoking the laws of Indiana even though that state had no apparent connection to this litigation. The trial court struck the McKenzies' initial complaint because it was not signed as required by Rule 11(a) and because it contained substantial errors and misstatements of fact and law. The trial court later dismissed the failure-to-warn and negligence claims asserted by the McKenzies in a subsequent amended complaint because that amended complaint was not filed until after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations applicable to those claims. Because the trial court acted within the discretion granted it by Rule 11(a) when it struck the McKenzies' initial complaint and because the McKenzies did not establish that the applicable statute of limitations should have been tolled, the trial court's order dismissing the McKenzies' claims as untimely was properly entered. View "McKenzie v. Janssen Biotech, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Antoinette Belle, as personal representative of the estate of Edith Mitchell, deceased, sued various health-care providers that treated Mitchell while she was hospitalized in April 2009. Belle eventually reached settlements with all of those health-care providers except two physicians. The trial court entered a summary judgment against Belle and in favor of the two physicians, bringing the medical-malpractice action to a close. Belle then filed a legal-malpractice case against four attorneys and three law firms that had represented her at varying times in the medical-malpractice action, alleging they had been negligent in representing her. Belle later brought an additional claim of fraudulent concealment. The attorneys and law firms denied the allegations against them, arguing that Belle's claims were untimely and that they had no factual or legal basis. The trial court agreed and entered judgments in favor of the attorneys and law firms. Belle appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in the attorneys and law firms. View "Belle v. Goldasich, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

by
Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court order dismissing a wrongful-death claim brought against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). Fleming presented to the emergency department complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. He would ultimately need a colectomy, but the hospital informed him Blue Advantage had decided that a lower quality of care (continued non-surgical management) was more appropriate than the higher quality of care (surgery) that Fleming's surgeon felt was appropriate. Fleming and his family had multiple conversations with agents of Blue Advantage in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the company that the higher surgery was the more appropriate course of care. Ultimately, an agent of Blue Advantage suggested to Fleming that he return to the hospital in an attempt to convince hospital personnel and physicians to perform the surgery on an emergency basis. For five days, Fleming would present to the emergency room, each time he was treated by non-surgical means, then returned home. On the evening of July 15, 2013, Fleming's condition had deteriorated such that he had to be intubated. He died after midnight of septic shock due to a perforated sigmoid colon with abundant fecal material in the peritoneal cavity. A lawsuit was filed against Blue Advantage, asserting that the combined negligence of the hospitals and clinics involved and Blue Advantage, proximately caused Fleming's death. Because the trial court determined that Ghee's allegations against Blue Advantage as stated in the original complaint were defensively preempted by ERISA, the Alabama Supreme Court found Ghee should have had the right to amend his complaint to clarify his state-law claims. Because the Court concluded that Ghee should have been afforded the right to amend his complaint, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas" on Justia Law

by
Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("Mobile Infirmary") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate paragraph 11 of its February 6, 2018, protective order. Lula Battle, as personal representative of the estate of Willie Trainor-Battle, filed a wrongful-death complaint against Mobile Infirmary, Dr. Rabin Shrestha, Jr., and various fictitiously named defendants. In the complaint, Battle alleged that Trainor-Battle was admitted to Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("the hospital") for the treatment of a sickle-cell crisis with severe pain; hospital personnel attempted to manage the pain by using IV administration of Demerol, methadone, and Phenergan; Trainor-Battle was found unresponsive and not breathing; efforts to resuscitate Trainor-Battle were unsuccessful; and that Trainor-Battle was pronounced dead. Battle filed a proposed protective order that included the language ("Paragraph 11") to which Mobile Infirmary had previously stated its opposition. Mobile Infirmary moved to reconsider or delete the paragraph entirely; the trial court denied the motion. Mobile Infirmary argued that paragraph 11 of the protective order "provides an extra-procedural method for introducing documents produced in the instant case into other cases, contrary to the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and Alabama Code 6-5-551, Ala. Code 1975." Pursuant to paragraph 11 of the protective order, Battle's counsel will be allowed to share any confidential information counsel obtains in this case with medical- malpractice plaintiffs in other cases against Mobile Infirmary, so long as those other plaintiffs are represented by Battle's counsel's law firm, regardless of whether such evidence is related to any acts or omissions alleged by those plaintiffs. The Supreme Court determined Mobile Infirmary established a clear legal right to the relief sought. Accordingly, it granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate paragraph 11 of its February 6, 2018 protective order. View "Ex parte Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center." on Justia Law

by
Sue Shadrick, as personal representative of the estate of William Harold Shadrick ("William"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Wilfredo Grana, M.D. In 2010, William presented to the emergency room reporting that he had been experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain. An emergency-room physician, Dr. Gary Moore, concluded that William had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Moore placed separate telephone calls to Osita Onyekwere, M.D., who was the cardiologist on call at the time, and to Dr. Grana, who is a board-certified internist and a hospitalist for the hospital. Dr. Moore discussed William's condition with Dr. Onyekwere and Dr. Grana. Thereafter, Dr. Grana admitted William to the hospital. Dr. Grana testified that, based on the echocardiogram, he believed that William was in cardiogenic shock, which means that his heart was unable to pump enough blood to meet his body's needs. Dr. Grana testified that he believed an emergency heart catheterization was necessary, which would have revealed the reason for the cardiogenic shock, such as a blocked blood vessel. As an internist, however, Dr. Grana could not perform that invasive procedure. After his telephone conversation with Dr. Grana, Dr. Onyekwere went home for the night without personally seeing William. The next morning, Dr. Grana learned that William's condition had worsened and that Dr. Onyekwere had not yet seen William. Dr. Onyekwere's nurse extender told Dr. Grana that William was being transferred to the hospital's intensive-care unit and that Dr. Onyekwere was en route to the hospital. William suffered cardiac arrest, later dying from insufficient oxygen to his brain. A heart catheterization performed after William had suffered cardiac arrest indicated that he had heart blockages that might have been bypassed through surgery had they been discovered earlier. Shadrick sued Dr. Onyekwere and Dr. Grana. She settled her claims against Dr. Onyekwere, and Dr. Grana filed a motion for a summary judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Shadrick was required to support her claims against Dr. Grana with the expert testimony of a similarly situated health-care provider. The trial court did not err in determining that her expert did not qualify as such. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in entering a summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grana. View "Shadrick v. Grana" on Justia Law

by
A jury entered a verdict against defendant HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden, LLC in a medical malpractice case brought by plaintiff Regina Honts, as personal representative of the estate of Doris Green. HealthSouth Gadsden then filed a postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law ("a JML"), a new trial, or a remittitur of the damages award. After an evidentiary hearing as to the request for a remittitur, the trial court denied the postjudgment motion. HealthSouth Gadsden appealed; Honts cross-appealed, challenging rulings on discovery issues. As to HealthSouth Gadsden's appeal, case no. 1160045, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remand the case for a new trial. As to Honts' cross-appeal, case no. 1160068, the Court affirmed. Honts' complaint pinpointed the start of Green's decline at a time during her residency at HealthSouth Gadsen, a nurse administered medication to Green that Green later had an adverse reaction to. Honts sought discovery of the nurse's personnel file; the trial court determined Honts failed to show what would have been in the personnel file that could establish a breach of the standard of care by HealthSouth Gasden with respect to Green. The Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the hospital standard of care, reversed the jury verdict as to that issue, and remanded for a new trial. View "HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden, LLC v. Honts" on Justia Law

by
The petitioner, the estate of Fredrick O'Brian Elliott, deceased, by and through his personal representative, Sonya Windham ("the estate"), filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its March 7, 2018, order insofar as it denied certain requests for production of documents made by the estate. The estate filed a wrongful-death action against Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Princeton Baptist Medical Center ("PBMC"), and Courtney Johnston (collectively, "the defendants") and various fictitiously named defendants. Elliott was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center complaining of nausea, vomiting, and gastritis; that, as part of his treatment, Elliott "was ordered to undergo full bowel rest by having Trans-Peritoneal Nutrition (TPN) administered through a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC Line)." Johnston, Elliott's nurse, came into Elliot's room and discarded a partially full TPN bag, "following doctor's orders," which Elliott's family questioned since Elliott had not finished his entire nutritional dose. The complaint alleged that because Johnston misread the chart and prematurely discarded the TPN bag, it started an irreversible chain reaction: Elliott became febrile, his temperature spiked, he developed an infection such that it damaged his heart, leading to cardiac arrest. Nine days after the TPN incident, Elliot died. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying the estate's motion to compel certain information requested in interrogatories based solely on the assertions of defendants' counsel: they did not satisfy their burden of establishing that the information requested was privileged. As such, the Supreme Court granted mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Ex parte the Estate of Fredrick O'Brian Elliott, deceased, by and through his personal representative, Sonya Windham." on Justia Law

by
Defendants Aurora Healthcare, Inc., and Aurora Cares, LLC, d/b/a Tara Cares (referred to collectively as "Aurora"), and Birmingham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center East, LLC ("Birmingham East") appealed a circuit court denial of their motion to compel arbitration of an action filed against them by Sharon Ramsey, as administratrix of the estate of her mother, Mary Pettway, deceased. Ramsey cross-appealed the decision denying her motion for a partial summary judgment concerning the validity of the subject arbitration agreement. In 2003, Mary Pettway, then 75 years old, was discharged from the hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham ("UAB Hospital"). On the same day, Pettway was admitted to a nursing home owned and operated by the defendants. During Pettway's admission to the nursing home, Ramsey met with Faye Linard, an administrative assistant, who presented Ramsey with an admissions agreement that included several documents, including a "Resident and Facility Arbitration Agreement." Ramsey refused to sign the arbitration agreement; signing it was not a prerequisite to Pettway's admission to the nursing home. Pettway developed an infection, and, as a result, she was returned to UAB Hospital. Pettway was readmitted to the nursing home a few days later. Ramsey stated in an affidavit that late in the evening on November 26, 2003, she received a telephone call from the admissions office at the nursing home and was asked to return to the nursing home because "there were some documents that I had not signed the first time my mother was admitted and I needed to come in to sign them." An arbitration agreement containing a signature with the name "Sharon Ramsey" dated November 26, 2003, appeared in the record. Ramsey contended the signature was not authentic, and she asserted that, even if it was genuine, the signature was obtained by misrepresentation. After her appointment as administratrix of Pettway's estate, Ramsey filed a complaint against defendants alleging a variety of statutory and common-law claims allegedly arising from Pettway's death, including a wrongful-death claim. Defendants sought to compel arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court discerned the parties' appeal and cross-appeal were premature because they sought review of a nonfinal judgment. As such, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeals. View "Ramsey v. Aurora Healthcare, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

by
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

by
Amy Langley Hamilton appealed a judgment entered in favor of Warren Scott, M.D., and the Isbell Medical Group, P.C. ("IMG"), following a jury trial on Hamilton's claim alleging the wrongful death of her stillborn son Tristian. In the first appeal, Hamilton v. Scott, 97 So. 3d 728 (Ala. 2012) ("Hamilton I"), the Alabama Supreme Court reversed in part a summary judgment entered against Hamilton because it concluded that Hamilton was entitled to pursue a wrongful-death claim regarding her unborn son even though the child was not viable at the time of his death. It was undisputed that the trial court's charges to the jury did not include the "better-position" principle. "That legal principle goes to the heart of Hamilton's theory of the case, i.e., that Dr. Scott's failure to refer Hamilton to a perinatologist during Hamilton's February 25, 2005, visit prevented timely treatment that, according to Dr. Bruner's testimony, would have saved Tristian's life." Consequently, the Supreme Court held the trial court's refusal to give such instructions constituted reversible error. View "Hamilton v. Scott" on Justia Law