Miss. SC rules in favor of hospital in wrongful death suit

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 6, 2012, 10:00am


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a hospital in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of boy diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.

The Court, in its July 26 ruling, reversed a decision by the Hinds County Circuit Court.

The lower court, in 2008, rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff Barbara Lanier for $250,000.

In 1998, Lanier's two-year-old son, Darrell Gill Jr., died while being treated at the defendant University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Darrell had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder -- Chediak-Higashi Syndrome, or CHS -- soon after being born.

CHS is characterized by neurological and bleeding disorders that ultimately affect the organs and compromise the immune system, leaving its victims susceptible to life-threatening infections.

After her son's death, Lanier filed a complaint against UMC, alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death.

On appeal, UMC raised four issues:

- Whether the trial court erred by denying UMC's motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations;

- Whether the trial court erred by denying UMC's motion for directed verdict;

- Whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; and

- Whether the trial court erred by granting Lanier's motion to conform the pleadings to the evidence.

The state's high court found that the lower court erred by denying the hospital's motion for a directed verdict.

Because it reversed the case on this issue, it concluded that the remaining issues are moot.

"UMC argues that the trial court erred by denying its motion for directed verdict for three reasons: (1) (the plaintiff's expert) Dr. (Rodrigo) Galvez was not qualified to testify, (2) his opinion had no basis and (3) he failed to provide his opinions to a reasonable degree of medical probability. Lanier argues that Dr. Galvez (a pathologist and psychiatrist) was a qualified expert, and he established causation within a reasonable degree of medical probability," Justice Leslie King explained.

King said Galvez provided no basis for his opinions, and he failed to testify within a reasonable degree of medical probability that the topiramate -- brand name Topomax, an anticonvulsant medication -- caused Darrell's death.

"In this case, the trial court judge sat as the sole fact-finder, and was left to speculate whether Darrell died from CHS complications or the increased dosage of topiramate," the justice wrote.

"Because Dr. Galvez's opinion was not based on a reasonable degree of medical probability, this Court finds the testimony was not sufficient to prove causation. The trial court erred by denying UMC's motion for a directed verdict."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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