Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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Regina Hannah appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Naughton, M.D.; Michael Naughton, M.D., Ph.D., LLC; Terisa Thomas, M.D., and and Terisa A. Thomas, M.D., P.C. (collectively, "the defendants"), on Hannah's claims alleging medical malpractice. In 2005, Hannah was seen by Dr. Thomas, a board-certified general surgeon, for a female health-care examination. Hannah was 32 years old at the time, and complained of fatigue, weight gain, heavy menstrual cycles, cramping, and painful sexual relations. Hannah also reported a significant family medical history of cervical cancer and stated that she was fearful of getting cancer. Hannah stated that her mother, grandmother, and sister had suffered from cervical cancer. Dr. Thomas ordered a number of tests, including a pelvic ultrasound and a Pap smear. Dr. Thomas received the results of Hannah's Pap smear, which indicated an "abnormal" result: "Epithelial Cell Abnormality. Atypical Squamous Cells Cannot Exclude High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HSIL)." Dr. Thomas stated that this was not a diagnosis of cancer but, rather, that she considered it an abnormal finding indicative of an "increased risk" of cancer. Dr. Thomas related to Dr. Naughton that she had a patient she wanted to refer to him for a second opinion following an abnormal Pap smear. Dr. Naughton testified that Hannah chose the most aggressive option for treatment, specifically stating that she wanted "it all out:" a hysterectomy, including her ovaries. Dr. Naughton had Hannah execute a "surgical-awareness" form indicating that she accepted full responsibility for her decision to have the surgery. Hannah underwent surgery; there was no indication of any diagnosis of cervical cancer mentioned in the surgical record. Hannah's surgery was completed without complication. Hannah would have one more follow up appointment with Dr. Naughton; she also met with Dr. Thomas. Frustrated with a lack of response from additional calls to Dr. Naughton's office, Hannah consulted with Dr. Max Austin, a gynecologic oncologist. After review of her medical records, Dr. Austin told Hannah she "never had nor did she have cervical cancer." Hannah then filed suit against Drs. Thomas and Naughton, alleging they breached their standard of care by falsely informing her she had cervical cancer based on the abnormal Pap-smear, and by advising her to undergo a hysterectomy. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Hannah v. Naughton, M.D., et al." on Justia Law

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Deborah Faison ("Deborah") died from cardiac arrest while she was a patient at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, Alabama. Her husband Larry Faison ("Faison") then sued Gulf Health Hospitals, Inc. ("Gulf Health"), which owned and operated the hospital. Over a year after filing suit, Faison was allowed to amend his complaint by making additional factual allegations to support his claims. Gulf Health petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to strike the amended complaint. Gulf Health argued the the amendment was untimely and without good cause. The Supreme Court determined Gulf Health did not meet its burden of showing that a postjudgment appeal was an inadequate remedy. Therefore, petition was denied. View "Ex parte Gulf Health Hospitals, Inc., d/b/a Thomas Hospital." on Justia Law

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Kimberlee Spencer ("Kimberlee"), as personal representative of the estate of James Scott Spencer ("Scott"), her deceased husband, appealed a judgment as a matter of law entered by the circuit court at the close of Kimberlee's medical malpractice case against Michael Remillard, M.D., and Helena Family Medicine, LLC, the entity through which Dr. Remillard operated his family-medicine clinic ("the clinic"). On a visit in 2006 for a physical, Scott informed Dr. Remillard that his father had been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. Scott had blood work and lab tests done during the 2006 visit, including a blood test used to assess a man's risk for developing prostate cancer. At that time, Scott's PSA level was 1.9, which was within the normal range for a man his age, 46 years old. In 2009, Scott again visited Dr. Remillard. Scott told Dr. Remillard that he had seen some blood in his stool, and Dr. Remillard performed a rectal examination on Scott. Dr. Remillard concluded from that exam that Scott's prostate was firm and normal, so he recommended that Scott get a colonoscopy to determine if there was a problem with his colon. Scott also had blood work done during the 2009 visit. At that time, Scott's PSA level was 14.3, which Dr. Remillard and Kimberlee's medical experts agreed was an elevated PSA level for a 49-year-old. A pivotal factual dispute in this case centered on when Dr. Remillard and Helena Family Medicine first informed Scott of the 2009 elevated PSA level. Scott next visited the clinic in 2011. During that visit, Dr. Remillard did not tell Scott about his 2009 elevated PSA level, but he did perform a rectal examination, and he determined that Scott's prostate was enlarged. Dr. Remillard diagnosed Scott with benign prostatic hyperplasia, and he prescribed Scott some medication for the condition. Scott was ultimately diagnosed with stage IV metastatic prostate cancer; he died as a result of the cancer on March 6, 2014. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Kimberlee presented competent expert-witness testimony regarding the standard of care and causation. In the interest of judicial economy, the Court also addressed other rulings by the trial court challenged by Kimberlee in this appeal. Concerning those rulings, Kimberlee's CMA nursing expert should have been permitted to testify, but the trial court properly excluded Kimberlee's counsel from directly questioning Dr. Remillard about his failure to tell Scott about his 2009 abnormal PSA lab-test result during his April 7, 2011, visit to the clinic. The judgment of the trial court was reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Spencer v. Remillard" on Justia Law

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Lamerle Miles ("Miles"), as the personal representative of the estate of her deceased mother Tameca Miles ("Tameca"), sued Coosa Valley Medical Center ("CVMC") and other named and fictitiously named parties, alleging that they had engaged in negligent, wanton, and outrageous conduct that caused Tameca's death. Miles specifically alleged that multiple CVMC employees had breached the applicable standards of care, resulting in the Sylacauga Police Department removing Tameca from the CVMC emergency room before she was treated for what was ultimately determined to be bacterial meningitis. Miles did not identify any specific CVMC employees in her original complaint, but she later filed a series of amendments substituting Kristen Blanchard, Teshia Gulas, Carla Pruitt, and Kathy Russell for fictitiously named defendants. After being substituted as defendants, the CVMC petitioners moved the trial court to enter summary judgments in their favor, arguing that they had not been named defendants within the two-year period allowed by the statute of limitations governing wrongful-death actions. The Talladega Circuit Court denied those motions, and the CVMC petitioners sought mandamus relief from the Alabama Supreme Court. After review, the Court denied petitions filed by Blanchard, Gulas, and Pruitt. The Court granted Russell's petition because Miles' complaint did not state a cause of action against her. View "Ex parte Kathy Russell, R.N." on Justia Law

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Angela Williams, as mother and next friend of Li'Jonas Earl Williams, a deceased minor, appealed a judgment as a matter of law entered in favor of the remaining defendants, Dr. Wesley H. Barry, Jr., and Advanced Surgical Associates, P.C. Li'Jonas Williams was a 17-year-old with sickle-cell disease. In June 2014, Li'Jonas went to the emergency room at Southern Regional Medical Center in Georgia ("the Georgia hospital") complaining of back and chest pain. A CT scan performed at the Georgia hospital showed that Li'Jonas had cholelithiasis, which is stones in the gallbladder. Li'Jonas and Williams saw Li'Jonas's pediatrician in Montgomery, Dr. Julius Sadarian. Dr. Sadarian referred Li'Jonas to Dr. Barry for gallbladder removal. Dr. Barry testified that Li'Jonas tolerated the procedure well; that Li'Jonas did not experience any complications during the surgery; and that Li'Jonas had only about 10ccs (two teaspoons) of blood loss during the surgery. Li'Jonas did not experience any problems when he was in the post-anesthesia-care unit or when he was in the outpatient recovery room. On the evening of August 4, 2014, Li'Jonas was found unresponsive at his home. He was transported by ambulance to the emergency; ultimately efforts to revive Li'Jonas were unsuccessful and he died a half hour after admission to the ER. In her fourth amended complaint, Williams asserted a wrongful-death claim based on allegations of medical malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Medical Liability Act against defendants. Judgment was entered in favor of defendants, and Williams appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court found that when the evidence was viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, Williams presented substantial evidence to create a factual dispute requiring resolution by the jury as to the issue whether the surgery performed by Dr. Barry was the proximate cause of Li'Jonas's death. It therefore reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Williams v. Barry" on Justia Law

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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

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Beekman Youngblood, M.D. ("Dr. Youngblood"), a board-certified anesthesiologist, appealed a circuit court judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Anthony Martin, as personal representative of the estate of Lanesha Martin. On May 25, 2006, Lanesha Martin underwent outpatient sinus surgery at Vaughan Regional Medical Center. During the surgery, Mrs. Martin was administered general anesthesia and was intubated (i.e., an endotracheal tube was inserted into her throat to help her breathe). After the surgery, Mrs. Martin developed pulmonary edema while in the post-anesthesia care unit ("the PACU") and began experiencing problems with her oxygen saturation. Mrs. Martin was subsequently reintubated and transferred to the intensive-care unit of the medical center for further treatment, but she died on May 29, 2006. On May 28, 2008, Mr. Martin, as the personal representative of Mrs. Martin's estate, commenced a wrongful- death action against Dr. Youngblood and Vaughan Regional Medical Center, Inc. ("VRMC"), the owner and operator of the medical center, which eventually settled before trial, under § 6-5-410, Ala. Code 1975. In his complaint, Mr. Martin alleged that Dr. Youngblood had failed to meet the applicable standard of care in administering anesthesia and in caring for and treating Mrs. Martin after the surgery. the Alabama Supreme Court determined Mr. Martin's expert was not qualified to testify, therefore the the trial court should have entered a JML in favor of Dr. Youngblood. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to enter a JML in favor of Dr. Youngblood. View "Youngblood v. Martin" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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