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Do You Really Want to Receive Health Care at a State Hospital?

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Message Roger Shuler

Cross Post at Legal Schnauzer

Imagine going to UAB Hospital to have your appendix removed, only to wake up and discover that your appendix still is in place--but your right leg has been amputated.

The surgical team made a world-class boo-boo and you can expect to receive a substantial sum for your pain and suffering in a court of law, right? Not so fast.

After all, UAB stands for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a state institution. And a recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court indicates that UAB and other state-run hospitals can commit all kinds of medical negligence and then hide behind the cloak of "state immunity."

That's one of many disturbing lessons to be taken from Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Kay E. Davis, a ruling that was released on January 14. The opinion, authored by Justice Mike Bolin, overturned a $3.2-million jury verdict in the death of 73-year-old Lauree Ellison. Kay Davis, as executrix of the Ellison estate, filed the lawsuit in May 2006.

The decision was so stunning that even the usually clueless Birmingham News expressed outrage. It also raises questions about possible conflicts of interests for a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees who was involved in the case.

Bolin found, in a 4-3 decision, that Baptist Health could not be sued because it had entered into an affiliation agreement with the UAB Health System in 2004, about a year before forming its own health-care authority. Because of its affiliation with UAB, Bolin wrote, Baptist Health enjoys the immunity from lawsuits that often is afforded state entities under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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