Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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Alicia Sampson ("Alicia"), as administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband, Joshua Sampson ("Josh"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of HeartWise Health Systems Corporation; HeartWise Clinic, LLC (collectively referred to as "HeartWise"); Isaac Health & Prevention Partners, LLC ("Isaac Health"); William Nixon, M.D.; and Jeffrey Saylor, M.D., in a wrongful-death action. At its HeartWise clinic, Isaac Health administered a battery of up to 31 physical tests that were intended "to assist in the detection of early evidence of vascular and cardiac abnormalities." In 2015, 29-year-old Josh visited the Isaac Health clinic. Months earlier, Josh's father died at age of 56 from "right ventricular dysplasia," which was a "congenital heart defect." Lowell's death led the Sampson family to seek heart evaluations to determine whether they had inherited the heart defect. Josh underwent the full battery of testing provided at the Isaac Health clinic; Josh's data from the left ventricular echocardiogram was within the "normal" range. Josh's mother, who also received the testing, stated that the nurse practitioner did not tell Josh in any way that he "needed to have any further diagnostic work-up or testing relative to his heart." On October 5, 2015, Josh collapsed at home while working on a construction project. He was taken to the Emergency Room, but died that day. The Sampson family procured a private autopsy; the report concluded that Josh died due to an arrhythmia secondary to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart condition. Alicia thereafter filed suit against the clinic, HearWise and the doctors, alleging fraud and negligence. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgment entered in favor of Isaac Health and Drs. Nixon and Saylor with respect to Alicia's negligence allegations against them because those allegations were never properly presented to the circuit court for adjudication. The Court also reversed summary judgment in favor of HeartWise with respect to Alicia's fraud allegations against HeartWise because Alicia presented substantial evidence of Josh's reasonable reliance upon HeartWise's representations about its program. The Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Isaac Health with respect to Alicia's fraud allegations against Isaac Health because Alicia failed to present substantial evidence that Josh's course of conduct would have changed if he had not seen HeartWise materials in the Isaac Health clinic's waiting room. The Court also affirmed summary judgment in favor of HeartWise with respect to Alicia's negligence allegations against HeartWise for multiple reasons. View "Sampson v. HeartWise Health Systems Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a medical-malpractice wrongful-death action filed by Patricia West ("Mrs. West"), the personal representative of the estate of her husband, John West, Jr. ("Mr. West"), against Springhill Hospitals, Inc., d/b/a Springhill Memorial Hospital ("SMH"). In 2014, then 59-year-old Mr. West accidentally sliced most of the tip of his left thumb off when he was using a table saw in his shop. He went to the emergency room, at which he had surgery to suture the wound from the saw cut. Mr. West was given two pain medications for postsurgical care: Dilaudid, the brand name for hydromorphone, and Percocet, the brand name for the opioid oxycodone. Mr. West was admitted to the hospital following surgery for observation. He was given the prescribed pain medications while in the hospital. The hospital admitted prescribed doses of Dilaudid were administered to Mr. West, but Percoset was not. Mr. West was found unresponsive after the doses of Dilaudid, and no drugs to counteract opioid overdoses were given. Mrs. West's lawsuit alleged negligence against the hospital for failing to assess monitor her husband while in the hospital. A jury returned a verdict against SMH and awarded $35 million in punitive damages. The trial court thereafter entered judgment on the jury's verdict finding SMH liable. After a hearing concerning a remittitur of the punitive-damages award, the trial court reduced the amount of the award to $10 million. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed both the judgment entered on the jury's verdict finding SMH liable and the trial court's order reducing the punitive-damages award. View "Springhill Hospitals, Inc. v. West" on Justia Law

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Alabama Somerby, LLC, d/b/a Brookdale University Park IL/AL/MC; Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.; and Undrea Wright (collectively, Brookdale) appealed a circuit court's order denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims asserted against them by plaintiff, L.D., as the next friend of her mother, E.D. Brookdale operated an assisted-living facility for seniors ("the nursing home") in Jefferson County, Alabama; Wright was the administrator of the nursing home. In March 2022, L.D. filed on E.D.'s behalf, a complaint against Brookdale and Wright and others, asserting various tort claims and seeking related damages premised on allegations that, following her admission to the nursing home, E.D. had been subjected to multiple sexual assaults both by other residents and by an employee of Brookdale. The Brookdale defendants jointly moved to compel arbitration of L.D.'s claims against them or, alternatively, to dismiss the action without prejudice to allow those claims to proceed via arbitration. Following a hearing, the trial court, denied the motion seeking to dismiss the action or to compel arbitration. The Brookdale defendants timely appealed, asserting that the trial court had erred by failing to order arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Brookdale defendants established that an agreement providing for arbitration existed and that the agreement affected interstate commerce. The trial court erred in denying the Brookdale defendants' request to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Alabama Somerby, LLC, et al. v. L.D." on Justia Law

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Victor Chin, M.D., and Sportsmed Orthopedic Specialists, P.C. (collectively "the Sportsmed defendants"), were defendants in an action brought by their patient, Malik Woodard. Woodard alleged that, against his wishes, Dr. Chin obtained records of Woodard's prior psychological treatment. The Sportsmed defendants sought mandamus relief from: (1) the circuit court's order denying their motion to change venue based on the Alabama Medical Liability Act and the Alabama Medical Liability Act of 1987 (collectively "AMLA"); and (2) the court's order prohibiting them from using the psychological records (and certain related documents) in the case and requiring them to return or destroy those records and documents ("the protective order"). As to the venue order, the Alabama Supreme Court denied the petition because the Sportsmed defendants did not argue that the complaint did not support an inference that Dr. Chin had no medical reason for obtaining the psychological records. As to the protective order, the Supreme Court denied the petition because the Sportsmed defendants did not demonstrate that the order was subject to mandamus review. View "Ex parte Victor Chin, M.D., and Sportsmed Orthopedic Specialists, P.C." on Justia Law

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Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("Mobile Infirmary") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, Inc. ("Quest"). Quest and Mobile Infirmary entered into a Laboratory Management Agreement ("the LMA"), in which Quest agreed to manage Mobile Infirmary's onsite clinical laboratory facilities and to provide clinical testing services used by Mobile Infirmary's medical staff to diagnose and treat patients. The LMA also contained indemnity provisions. In 2015, James Ward went to Mobile Infirmary's emergency room after suffering weakness, dizziness, loss of fluids, a mild cough, and severe body aches. Ward was eventually diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis. When his condition did not improve, Ward was moved into the intensive-care unit, at which point his doctor ordered him to undergo glucose finger-sticks and a basic metabolic panel every four hours to help monitor his serum glucose, kidney function, acid/base status, and electrolytes. According to Mobile Infirmary, those basic metabolic panels were supposed to be performed by Quest, but they were allegedly canceled by one of Quest's employees. At some point, he suffered an "anoxic brain injury" and later died "as a result of multisystem organ failure secondary to severe sepsis and septic shock." Ingrid Mia Ward ("Mia"), Ward's wife and the personal representative of his estate, commenced a wrongful-death action against Mobile Infirmary and other defendants responsible for Ward's treatment and care. Quest was not named as a party to Mia's action. Mobile Infirmary informed Quest of the action and, as the case progressed, apprised Quest of the status of the proceedings, including its negotiations with Mia for potential settlement of the lawsuit. Mia and Mobile Infirmary ultimately settled the wrongful-death action. Before Mia's claims against Mobile Infirmary were dismissed pursuant to a joint motion of those parties, Mobile Infirmary filed a third-party complaint against Quest in which it sought contractual and equitable indemnity related to its defense and settlement of Mia's action. Quest filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part by dismissing Mobile Infirmary's equitable- indemnity claim. The Alabama Supreme Court found that nowhere in the LMA did the parties expressly agree or clearly provide a formula that, in the event there was a claim that arises out of partial liability or concurrent acts by both parties, indemnification will be required for a proportionate share. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Mobile Infirmary Association v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Robert Owen died 11 days after being transferred from Huntsville Hospital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital ("UAB Hospital") for cardiac treatment. His widow Gloria Owen, as the personal representative of his estate, sued the ambulance company that had transported him, Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc. ("HEMSI"), as well as HEMSI employees Jacob Steele, Calvin Hui, Christopher Nunley, and Dea Calce, alleging that events that occurred during Robert's transport had "caused him unnecessary stress, worry, concern, anxiety, and/or a delay in treatment," leading to further heart damage and his eventual death. During discovery, Gloria sought information from the HEMSI defendants about the previous conduct and employment record of Steele, a licensed emergency medical technician ("EMT") and the assigned driver of the HEMSI ambulance that transported Robert. The HEMSI defendants objected to Gloria's requests and sought a protective order, arguing that the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA") governed her claims and prohibited discovery related to any acts and omissions of a defendant that were not specifically described in the complaint. The circuit court rejected the HEMSI defendants' request for a protective order and directed them to produce the requested discovery; they petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, specifically a writ directing the trial court to amend its order to give effect to what they claimed were the applicable privilege and discovery protections of the AMLA. The Supreme Court granted the petition in part, and denied in part. The Court held all claims asserted by Gloria in this action were governed by the AMLA and subject to the limitations on discovery imposed by § 6-5-551. To the extent that the trial court's October 2021 order did not give effect to the § 6-5-551 privilege, the HEMSI defendants' petition was granted and the trial court was directed to modify that order. But to the extent the HEMSI defendants sought to prevent Gloria from discovering information regarding acts or omissions that were specifically alleged and described in her complaint, their petition was denied. View "Ex parte Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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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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Several entities that owned or operated hospitals in Alabama ("plaintiffs") filed suit against manufacturers of prescription opioid medications, distributors of those medications, and retail pharmacies ("defendants"), alleging that defendants' marketing or selling of the medications resulted in an epidemic of opioid abuse in Alabama. Plaintiffs sought to recover unreimbursed medical expenses incurred in treating individuals with opioid-related medical conditions. Among other theories of liability, plaintiffs asserted that defendants had created a public nuisance in the form of the epidemic. The trial court entered a case-management order directing the parties to try each of plaintiffs' causes of action separately. The public-nuisance claim was to be tried first and is itself to be bifurcated into two separate trials. The first trial on the public-nuisance claim was to involve "liability," and the second trial was to involve "special damage." Defendants, asserting that the trial court had erred in bifurcating the public-nuisance claim, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate the relevant portion of the case-management order. The Supreme Court granted the writ: "conducting a trial on the issue of the defendants' 'liability' for a public nuisance and a second trial on 'special damage' neither avoids prejudice nor furthers convenience, expedition, or economy. We can only conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion. We therefore grant the defendants' petition and issue a writ of mandamus." View "Ex parte Endo Health Solutions Inc. et al." 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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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