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.
What kind of care did Lauree Ellison receive at Baptist Health and what led to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling? Here is how the Montgomery Advertiser described it:
The hospital had appealed a 2009 Montgomery County jury's verdict that Baptist Health was negligent when it failed to notify 73-year-old Lauree Ellison or her physician that a throat culture had come back positive for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). The culture was done during a visit to the Baptist Medical Center East emergency room in September of 2005.- Advertisement -
About two months later, Ellison was re-admitted to Baptist Medical Center East and diagnosed as having MRSA Pneumonia. She died five days later. The hospital contends that she actually died of congestive heart failure.
But the Alabama Supreme Court said that regardless of the cause, the hospital could not be sued because it had governmental immunity through its relationship to the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System.
Citizens might want to think about that the next time they seek health care at UAB. In fact, citizens might want to think about that before conducting any business at UAB--or even setting foot on the campus. As I've seen from personal experience in my ongoing employment lawsuit, the university has a tendency to cause harm and then try to hide behind the skirt of immunity.