Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health Systems ("the Authority"), and Simeon Penton (collectively, "Baptist Health") appealed a circuit court judgment compelling Baptist Health to disclose certain documents to Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC ("CARO"), under the auspices of the Alabama Open Records Act. CARO was a Montgomery-area radiation-oncology practice; CARO provided radiation and oncology services at the Montgomery Cancer Center ("MCC"), a facility owned and operated by the Authority. The Authority and CARO executed a noncompetition agreement in May 2012. In 2017, the Authority submitted a letter of intent to file a certificate-of-need ("CON") application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency ("SHPDA"). The letter of intent indicated that the Authority sought to offer radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO alleged it then attempted to persuade the Authority to use CARO physicians for radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC but that the Authority rebuffed CARO's overtures. In February 2018, the Authority filed its CON. Then in March 2018, the Authority notified CARO of the termination of the noncompetition agreement. A dispute arose and ended up in court. Counsel for the Authority sent CARO a letter requesting that CARO dismiss its action because, the Authority asserted, CARO's review of Board minutes confirmed that the Authority had not breached the noncompetition agreement by recruiting or employing radiation oncologists to work at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO asserted that redactions in the minutes included information relating to arrangements with medical oncologists, the Medicare 340B program, and the Authority's other proposed projects in the Prattville area. Counsel for the Authority contended that the remainder of the Board minutes and other documents CARO requested were "confidential and privileged and/or not subject to production under [the ORA]." The circuit court ultimately ordered unredacted minutes to be produced. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Authority allowed CARO's counsel to review the unredacted Board minutes, it steadfastly refused to provide a copy of those unredacted minutes to CARO. Thus, the Authority plainly did not sufficiently comply with the ORA with respect to the Board minutes, and the circuit court did not exceed the scope of the ORA in ordering the records disclosed. View "Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC" on Justia Law

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Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. (formerly EHS, Inc.) (collectively, "the Greenway defendants"), and Sunrise Technology Consultants, LLC, and Lee Investment Consultants, LLC (collectively, "the Sunrise defendants"), appealed separately a circuit court order denying their motion to compel the arbitration of certain claims asserted against them by Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates ("SARHA"). Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined the Greenway defendants failed to establish the existence of a contract containing an arbitration provision, the Sunrise defendants' argument based on an intertwining-claims theory also failed. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court's denial of the Greenway defendants' and the Sunrise defendants' motions to stay proceedings and to compel arbitration. View "Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. v. Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates" on Justia Law

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Putnam County Memorial Hospital ("Putnam") appealed a circuit court denial of its motion to set aside a default judgment entered in favor of TruBridge, LLC ("TruBridge"), and Evident, LLC ("Evident"). In September 2015, Putnam entered into a "Master Services Agreement" with TruBridge ("the MSA agreement") and a license and support agreement with Evident ("the LSA agreement"). In the MSA agreement, TruBridge agreed to provide accounts-receivable management services for Putnam for five years. The MSA agreement provided that TruBridge would receive 5.65 percent of the "cash collections," as that term is defined in the MSA agreement, to be paid monthly, for its account and billing services. In the LSA agreement, Evident agreed to provide Putnam with Evident's electronic health-records system as well as maintenance and support for that system. According to Putnam, starting in 2016, Putnam entered into a series of agreements with Hospital Partners, Inc. ("HPI"), in which HPI agreed to manage and control the operations of the hospital and its facilities. TruBridge and Evident alleged that at that time, Putnam began entering patient information and billing services through a different computer system than the one provided by Evident pursuant to the LSA agreement and used by TruBridge for accounts receivable pursuant to the MSA agreement. When a TruBridge manager contacted Putnam to inquire about this drop in new-patient admissions into their system, Putnam claimed to have almost no new patients and that it was barely surviving. TruBridge and Evident alleged Putnam was deliberately false and that Putnam was, in fact, simply entering new patients into a different system. Putnam did not enter an appearance in the lawsuit brought by TruBridge and Evident for breach of contract. The circuit court entered a default judgment. Putnam's motion to set aside the judgment was denied. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Putnam met its evidentiary threshold to trigger the statutory requirement the circuit court reconsider its motion to set aside and for reconsideration relating to the default judgment. Therefore, the Court reversed the circuit court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Putnam County Memorial Hospital v. TruBridge, LLC, and Evident, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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On October 8, 2016, Rita Kay filed a complaint against "Brookwood Baptist Health LLC" and fictitiously named defendants pursuant to the Alabama Medical Liability Act, based on injuries she allegedly suffered at the hands of another patient while she was being treated in the Psychiatric and Behavioral Health Inpatient Services Unit at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center from October 8, 2014, until October 12, 2014. She asserted claims of medical negligence, false imprisonment, negligence and wantonness, breach of contract, and negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, and/or supervision. Brookwood Health Services, Inc., filed a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to dismiss Kay's action against it. Assuming, without deciding, that service on Brookwood Baptist Health LLC, the original defendant, was proper, the materials before the Alabama Supreme Court established that Brookwood Baptist Health LLC did not receive the complaint until February 13, 2017 -- 128 days after the lawsuit was commenced. Therefore, the Court concluded Brookwood established it was added as a defendant after the expiration of the applicable limitations period and that relation-back principles do not apply. Therefore, it has demonstrated that it had a clear legal right to the relief sought. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its September 7, 2017, order denying the motion to dismiss filed by Brookwood Health Services, Inc., and to dismiss Kay's complaint. View "Ex parte Brookwood Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Walker Baptist Medical Center ("WBMC"), appealed a circuit court's denial of its postjudgment motion seeking relief from the judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Armando Cantu ("Armando"), as father and next friend of Daniel Jose Cantu ("Daniel"), a minor, on Armando's medical-malpractice claim. In 2009, Armando and his wife, Eulalia, took then three-month-old Daniel to WBMC's emergency room for treatment following symptoms including decreased appetite, coughing, and a fever that had lingered for several days. At that time, Daniel was diagnosed by the attending emergency-room physician as suffering from a viral illness (specifically, an upper-respiratory infection) and was discharged with instructions to continue fluids and to seek further treatment if the symptoms continued. Thereafter, Daniel's condition allegedly further deteriorated into vomiting, suspected dehydration, decreased activity, and "irritab[ility] whenever his neck was touched." Daniel received a second-opinion from his pediatrician, who performed a "spinal tap," revealing Daniel had bacterial meningitis. Daniel was taken to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, where he was treated with antibiotics, and released with a "discharge diagnosis" of: "meningococcal meningitis, hydrocephalus status post ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, seizure disorder, blindness, and deafness as a result of bacterial meningitis." In October 2011, Armando sued both WBMC and Dr. James Wilbanks (the attending physician at Daniel's first trip to the Emergency Room), alleging a single count pursuant to Alabama's Medical Liability Act. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict finding that Dr. Wilbanks's actions did not meet the applicable standard of care, found WBMC liable for the conduct of Dr. Wilbanks, and awarded Armando $10,000,000 in damages. WBMC filed a postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Among the other claims included in that motion, WBMC specifically asserted that it was entitled to a new trial based on the trial court's admission, over WBMC's objections, of evidence of prior medical-malpractice lawsuits filed against WBMC. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the facts related to the jury regarding prior acts and omissions by WBMC were entirely irrelevant for the purpose of curative admissibility, were highly prejudicial to WBMC, and warranted reversal of the judgment against WBMC. The judgment of the trial court was, therefore, reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Baptist Health System, Inc. v. Cantu" on Justia Law

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This wrongful-death action was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of "all defendants," which included the entity that operates Bullock County Hospital, ERMDS, LLC, and the estate of Dr. Ireneo Domingo, Jr. The trial court entered a judgment on that verdict. James Ansley ("James") presented to the emergency room of Bullock County Hospital ("BCH"), complaining of chest pain he had been experiencing for one or two days. James's condition deteriorated, and, at approximately 4:30 p.m., the decision was made to transfer James to a different hospital, Baptist Medical Center South ("Baptist South"). James later died at Baptist South of pulmonary emboli (blood clots that had traveled to his lungs). Plaintiff Alisa Ansley, administrator of James’ estate, filed a postjudgment motion for a new trial. In her brief, Ansley suggested that she was entitled to relief because, she says, Dr. Domingo breached the standard of care in failing to transfer James to Baptist South immediately upon creating a differential diagnosis, which identified pulmonary embolism as a possible cause of his symptoms. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Ansley did not demonstrate the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying her motion for a new trial. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Ansley v. Inmed Group, Inc. d/b/a Bullock County Hospital, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lisa Wilson appealed dismissal of her complaint seeking damages against defendants, University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C. ("UAHSF"); Carla Falkson, M.D.; Tina Wood, M.D.; Ravi Kumar Paluri, M.D.; and Mollie DeShazo, M.D., based on the tort of outrage. Wilson's complaint alleged that, in late 2011, her elderly mother, Elizabeth Monk Wilson ("Elizabeth"), was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for colon cancer. According to Wilson, before the onset of Elizabeth's illness, Elizabeth had executed an advanced health-care directive that "instruct[ed] ... caregivers to use all available means to preserve [Elizabeth's] life" and further named Wilson as Elizabeth's health-care proxy "in the event [Elizabeth] became 'too sick to speak for' herself." Elizabeth subsequently suffered a recurrence of her cancer. In August 2015, she was admitted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, a facility operated by UAHSF. In her complaint, Wilson alleged that, while Elizabeth was in the hospital, she was treated by the doctors. She further alleged that the doctors made numerous and repeated tactless comments to Elizabeth and Wilson about Elizabeth's condition and her impending death, and to the effect that she was wasting resources by being in the hospital instead of dying at home. Wilson's complaint alleged a single claim for damages "for the tort of outrage, and for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress" and sought compensatory and punitive damages. Wilson sought to hold UAHSF vicariously liable for the alleged conduct of the doctors, which conduct, she alleged, occurred within the line and scope of the doctors' employment with UAHSF. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court's holding that the tort of outrage "is limited to three situations" was an incorrect statement of law: the tort can be viable outside the context of the above-identified circumstances and has previously been held to be so viable. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings where the trial court should, under the standard appropriate for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), determine whether the alleged conduct was "so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society." View "Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C." on Justia Law