Hospitals apparently want to avoid accountability in those pesky lawsuits for wrongful death and medical malpractice. They might have found a way.
The plan seems to have started in Alabama, and if it proves successful, we look for it to move to other states.
One Alabama court case indicates the plan is working, and another case appears to be in the pipeline. If this spreads around the country, you or a loved one can be killed by medical negligence, and when you go to court . . . well, you will be "s--t out of luck," as some folks say Down South.
How does the new scheme work? A private health-care facility signs an affiliation agreement with a public institution, such as a university medical center. That allows the private facility to piggyback on the university's "sovereign immunity," a concept that means state entities often are protected from lawsuits by private individuals.
Until recently, this was not lawful, even under our backward court system in Alabama. But the Alabama Supreme Court recently found that Baptist Health in Montgomery enjoyed "state immunity" because of its affiliation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). This was the high court's grounds for overturning a $3.2-million jury verdict in the death of 73-year-old Lauree Ellison.
A throat culture had come back positive for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), but Baptist Health failed to notify Ellison's physician. About two months later, Ellison was diagnosed with MRSA pneumonia and died.
The Alabama Supreme Court found that it did not have jurisdiction to even consider the case because of Baptist Health's affiliation agreement with UAB. The high court made this finding even though Baptist Health had not even argued state immunity at the trial-court level.
Discerning readers probably will not be surprised to learn that all four justices who voted to overturn the jury verdict are Republicans--and they have received major campaign support from corporate interests.
You can check out the Alabama Supreme Court's brilliant "reasoning" at the link below:
Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System, d/b/a/ Baptist Medical Center East v. Kay E. Davis, as executrix of the Estate of Lauree Durden Ellison, deceased
What about that other case in the pipeline? Just last week, the family of a Birmingham man won a $3 million jury verdict against Princeton Baptist Medical Center and a team of doctors. Laboyish Catlin, 37, died in January 2006 after surgery for a duodenal ulcer.
Shay Samples, of the Birmingham firm Hare Wynn Newell and Newton, was lead plaintiffs' attorney in the Catlin case. Samples also was involved in the Lauree Ellison case. Reports The Birmingham News:
The suit cited an autopsy report that said he bled to death. The suit claimed negligent and improper surgery and other flawed medical care by the hospital and doctors. After the surgery, the suit said, Catlin required "multiple blood transfusions."
"Exsanguination in the artery" was the cause of death, the suit said. Samples said Catlin, known as Wayne, was sent home from surgery without proper follow-up care and died there.
"This was a needless tragedy and a preventable death," said Samples, who tried the case with co-counsel Ken Riley. "The family would rather have their son, but at least some justice was served."
Justice might not be served for long if the Alabama Supreme Court has anything to do with it. Princeton Baptist is part of the Birmingham-based Baptist Health System, which is different from Baptist Health, the Montgomery-based entity in the Lauree Ellison case. We are not aware of any affiliation agreement between Princeton Baptist and UAB, but if some connection can be found, the Alabama Supreme Court is likely to leave the Catlin family holding the proverbial bag on appeal.
You can rest assured that hospitals around the country will be keeping an eye on the proceedings in Alabama. If corporate forces have their way, hospitals will sign affiliation agreements with university medical centers, allowing them to escape accountability in wrongful-death and medical-malpractice cases.