Alabama Supreme Court Upholds $3.2 Million Medical Malpractice Judgment Involving Hospital Negligence

An Alabama medical negligence case that found its way to the state supreme court, arose out of a jury’s verdict in the amount of $3.2 million. The verdict came in favor of the family of Lauree Ellison involving medical malpractice and hospital negligence at Baptist Medical Center East (BMCE).  The trial court denied the defendant’s post judgment motions seeking a new trial, or in the alternative, a reduction in the judgment.  The motion to reduce the verdict amount was based on the statutory cap contained in the Alabama code.

On Sept. 3, 2005, Lauree Ellison was treated in the emergency room as a patient of Baptist Medical Center East in Montgomery, Ala.  She was 73 years old and suffered from a number of chronic pre-existing medical conditions.  Ellison was there for an evaluation after she had fallen at her home. 

While she was in the emergency room, she mentioned that she had a sore throat.  An emergency room physician ordered a strep test, which was negative. The exam lab results showed that Ellison did not have an infection, and the x-rays that were done were unremarkable for injuries from her fall. She was then discharged and returned home.

However, after Ellison’s release, the lab at BMCE drew the culture taken from the quick streptococcus test and found the presence of the infectious process, MRSA.  The lab reported the results in its electronic medical system, but they were not reported to Ellison’s family doctor.  On Nov. 3, 2005, she returned to BMCE’s emergency room complaining of a cough and moderate to severe respiratory distress.  She died on Nov. 8, 2005. 

In the lawsuit brought by Ellison’s family against Baptist Health doing business as Baptist Medical Center East and then later amended to name Healthcare Authority for Baptist Health d/b/a Baptist Medical Center East, it alleged that the negligence of the hospital and its personnel were the cause of her untimely death.  Before the trial, the defendant hospital asserted that it was subject to the $100,000 statutory cap on damages against governmental entities as set out in the Alabama code.

At the trial, it was shown through expert testimony that the hospital had breached the standard of care by not reporting its finding of MRSA directly to patient’s physician and that BMCE’s failure to report was the proximate cause of her death.  The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $3.2 million. 

Although the defendant pled that the $100,000 cap enacted in 1987 was in effect here, that statute had been declared unconstitutional.  The Alabama Supreme Court said  the only serious issue presented by the defendant’s consolidated post-judgment motion was its contention that the $100,000 cap on damages ought to apply to this case. The Supreme Court of Alabama rejected that argument on the ground that this defendant, the Healthcare Authority for Baptist Health, is not a governmental entity within the meaning of the Alabama code. 

In the court’s 6-3 decision it rejected the hospital’s request for a rehearing. The court found that the university-affiliated Healthcare Authority for Baptist Health that ran the hospital did not qualify for the legal immunity granted to state entities. 

The Alabama Supreme Court also found that even though the hospital authority running the public hospital was created by the state’s legislature, the authority is not entitled to state immunity because it functions as a hospital, unlike that of law enforcement entities, and as such are not unique to the government. The court noted that the $100,000 cap applied to governmental entities but not this hospital. “State immunity would apply only if the Authority were an ‘immediate and strictly governmental agency of the State.’  It is not.  It therefore is not entitled to either form of governmental immunity it requests, and the judgment of the trial court therefore is due to be affirmed.”

Kay E. Davis, Executrix of the Estate of  Lauree Ellison, deceased v. Healthcare Authority for Baptist Health, et al. Supreme Court of Alabama, Case No. 1090084.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois hospital negligence cases, medical negligence cases and birth injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Joliet, Geneva, Glenview, Lake Forest, Lockport, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Oak Park, Palatine, River Forest, Schaumburg, Round Lake Beach, Park Ridge, St. Charles and Cicero, Ill.

Related blog posts:

$215,000 Cook County Jury Verdict for Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment of Hand Infection; Hebel v. Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, LLC

Jury Finds for Hospital and Doctor in Child’s Undiagnosed Meningitis Hearing Loss Case

$1.12 Million Jury Verdict Because of Doctor’s Late Diagnosis of Acute Coronary Syndrome