Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
by
The estate of Ed Young, deceased, by and through its personal representative, Fannie Pollard, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services ("Hill Crest") in a wrongful-death action alleging medical malpractice. On May 7, 2017, the estate of Ed Young sued Hill Crest alleging that Hill Crest caused Young's death on May 9, 2015, by improperly administering the antipsychotic drugs Haldol and Thorazine to Young as a chemical restraint without taking a proper medical history and evaluating him. The style of the complaint indicated that it was filed by the "Estate of Ed Young and Fannie M. Pollard as personal representative of the Estate of Ed Young." On May 8, 2017, the probate court appointed Fannie M. Pollard as administrator of Young's estate. On May 9, 2017, the two-year limitations period under Alabama's wrongful-death act expired. On June 15, 2017, the estate filed an amended complaint, adding additional claims against Hill Crest. The amended complaint listed as plaintiffs the estate and Pollard as the personal representative of the estate. The parties then engaged in discovery. In 2019, Hill Crest moved for summary judgment, arguing that Pollard was not the personal representative of the estate when the complaint was filed, and therefore she lacked capacity to bring suit. Furthermore, Hill Crest argued the complaint was a nullity and there was no properly filed underlying action to which Pollard's subsequent appointment as personal representative could relate. The Alabama Supreme Court found Hill Crest's argument regarding the relation-back doctrine as unavailing: "the relation-back doctrine 'simply recognizes and clarifies what has already occurred' in that application of the doctrine does not extend the limitations period but merely allows substitution of a party in a suit otherwise timely filed." Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Pollard v. H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, two of the decedent’s children, brought wrongful death and survival actions under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act against a nursing home, alleging that injuries the decedent received when the nursing home’s employee dropped her while transferring her from a bath chair to her bed caused her to suffer injuries that ultimately resulted in her death. The decedent’s granddaughter, rather than plaintiffs, initially filed a request for a medical review panel ostensibly as the representative either of the decedent or her estate. The lower courts found that the granddaughter was a “claimant” within the meaning of the Medical Malpractice Act, namely La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) and (A)(16), and that her timely request had therefore suspended prescription with regard to the medical malpractice claims of the plaintiffs, even though they had not been named as claimants in the original request for a medical review panel. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in concluding the granddaughter was a proper “claimant” under the language of the Act on the basis that she was a succession representative for the decedent’s estate. Because the initial request for the medical review panel was not made by a proper “claimant,” prescription was not tolled. Accordingly, because defendant’s exception of prescription should have been granted, the trial court’s ruling denying the exception of prescription was reversed. View "Guffey v. Lexington House, LLC" 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
Alexander Clark brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the estate of his late pain management specialist, Dr. Daniel Brookoff. Clark claimed Dr. Brookoff negligently prescribed a prolonged course of drugs to alleviate Clark’s chronic pain and that Dr. Brookoff did not adequately inform his patient (then a minor) of the risks associated with the drug. Clark claimed that his consumption of the drug caused neurological and urological damage. Prior to trial, Clark indicated that he intended to present testimony about conversations he and his mother had with Dr. Brookoff prior to and during treatment. The Estate responded by filing a motion to exclude such evidence in accordance with Colorado’s Dead Man’s Statute. The trial court agreed that the anticipated testimony was inadmissible. Unable to introduce that testimony, Clark abandoned his informed consent claim, and the case proceeded to trial on his negligence claim. After judgment was entered in favor of the Estate, Clark appealed the order prohibiting him or his mother from testifying about their conversations with Dr. Brookoff. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to bar this testimony and remanded the case for a new trial on Clark’s informed consent claim. In so doing, the appellate division relied on case law predating the 2002 and 2013 amendments to the Dead Man’s Statute to conclude that, despite its current language, the statute was not applicable “in any civil action” but only when the outcome of a proceeding will increase or diminish an estate. Because Dr. Brookoff had an insurance policy, the court of appeals reasoned that any liability would be covered by insurance and thus would not diminish his estate. The court therefore declined to apply the Dead Man’s Statute. Following denial of its petition for rehearing, the Estate petitioned for certiorari. The Colorado Supreme Court held the Dead Man’s Statute was applicable “in all civil actions.” Because the statute applied irrespective of the potential impact of a judgment on an estate, the Court also held the existence of insurance coverage was not a factor militating for or against the applicability of the Dead Man’s Statute. View "Estate of Daniel Brookoff, M.D., v. Clark" 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 appeals, an executor of an estate sued the clinic and physician's assistant who treated the decedent for wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the case because plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit, as was required by statute. The refiled case was dismissed as untimely. The executor appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which reviewed the trial court's dismissals and found that dismissal was proper in both cases. View "Quinlan v. Five-Town Health Alliance, Inc., dba Mountain Health Center" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Nancy Brenner, individually and in her representative capacity as representative of the estate of Dale Brenner, and Zach Brenner, individually, appealed judgments entered in favor of defendants Universal Health Services of Rancho Springs, Inc., doing business as Southwest Healthcare System - Inland Valley Medical Center (UHS) and Dr. Young H. Lee, M.D. (Dr. Lee or Lee). Dale Brenner, Nancy's husband and Zach's father, was a patient at the Inland Valley Medical Center for approximately 23 days after he suffered a stroke a few hours after arriving at the emergency department of the hospital. He was eventually transferred to another medical facility, where he later died. Approximately a year after Dale Brenner's death, the plaintiffs sued UHS, Lee, and additional defendants, asserting causes of action for wrongful death based on medical negligence; retaliation; and elder abuse. Lee and UHS moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment in favor of UHS and Lee. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Brenner v. Universal Health etc." on Justia Law

by
Bernard Norton, by and through Kim Norton, brought a wrongful death action against a number of defendants who were affiliated with a nursing home in which his wife, Lola Norton, died. Bernard claimed that negligent treatment caused Lola’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and Bernard appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and entered into by a decedent and/or her power of attorney, which bound the decedent and her estate to arbitration, was also enforceable against the decedent’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action. The Court found that such an arbitration agreement did bind the decedent’s beneficiaries with respect to their wrongful death claims, and, accordingly, reversed the Court of Appeals. View "United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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