State Supreme Court Finds Apparent Authority of Nurses and ER Doctors Lacking in Death Case

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.

This matter began because Heath complained he had a lump in his throat that would not go away. When the pain became unbearable, he was taken to the hospital’s emergency room. In his history was the fact that his father had died of an aneurysm at the age of 47 and that he also had hypertension. He was on high blood pressure medication.

In the ER there was no evidence that the nurses on duty bothered to review his medical history with him. Dr. Wigfall, who was the emergency room physician on duty that night, did not remember if he took Heath’s medical history. Nothing was recorded in that respect.

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. He 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.

Melissa 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 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 Melissa 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. The court held that Bain failed to present sufficient evidence that the failure to take and record Heath’s history was a cause of his death. Thus, the court concluded the essential element of causation was missing in this medical malpractice lawsuit.

In addition, this court held that the Bain family failed to prove the apparent authority relationship in connecting the nurses and the ER doctor to the hospital. Apparent authority refers to what a reasonable person would understand to be the legal relationship between what in fact is an independent contractor arrangement, but looks and acts like an employment arrangement.

Bain v. Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority, d/b/a Helen Keller Hospital,  Supreme Court of Alabama Docket: 1150764 (Feb. 10, 2017)

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling wrongful death cases, birth trauma injury cases, traumatic brain injury cases, nursing negligence cases, emergency room errors case and medical negligence cases for individuals and families who have been injured, harmed or have died because of the negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including Burr Ridge, LaGrange, Brookfield, Yorkfield, Midlothian, Maywood, Itasca, Highland Park, Waukegan, Joliet, Aurora, Bedford Park, Chicago (Archer Heights, Marquette Park, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Montclaire, Edgebrook, North Park), Lemont and Crestwood, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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