Arkansas SC says charitable hospitals can be sued retroactively

Chris Rizo Feb. 13, 2009, 11:47am

Robert Brown

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline)-A 2007 Arkansas law that allows charitable hospitals' risk pools to be sued directly should be applied retroactively, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The high court's decision reinstates a claim in a lawsuit filed in March 2007 against St. Joseph's Mercy Health Center in Hot Springs, Ark., over its treatment of six-year-old Mason Archer following a car crash.

The lawsuit also targeted several of the hospital's doctors and nurses as well as the Sisters of Mercy Health System, which owns the hospital, and the risk pool that the Catholic health care system uses.

The lawsuit, filed in Garland County Circuit Court, charges that the hospital and its personnel erred in 2005, leaving the boy paralyzed from the chest down.

Garland County Circuit Judge Marcia Hearnsberger dismissed the liability pool from the lawsuit.

She found that while the 2007 law allows charitable hospitals' liability pools to be sued just as insurance companies, she said changes to the law did not apply retroactively.

The state Supreme Court disagreed in its opinion released Thursday.

Justice Robert Brown, writing for the high court, said changes to the law enacted by the state Legislature. He said the statutory change "is remedial in nature."

"[T]he Liability Pool is a self-insurance program administered and maintained by the Sisters of Mercy Health System, which does business in many states, but in Hot Springs as St. Joseph's," the ruling said. "Hence, the Liability Pool is not a separate, unrelated, and distinguishable third party. It is a fund that clearly is under the umbrella of the same non-profit corporation that runs St. Joseph's."

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