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Alabama Supreme Court allows breach of warranty claim to stand in surgical mesh suit

State Supreme Court

By Sandra Lane | Sep 5, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – A decision regarding the appeal of a lawsuit over medical malpractice allegations was handed down by Justice James Allen Main of the Alabama Supreme Court on Aug. 24.

The judge ruled that the two-year statute of limitations had elapsed on a woman's Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (AEMLD) claim and rejected that claim. However, he approved a breach of warranty claim on which the four-year statute of limitations was still effective.

This lawsuit, filed on March 19, 2016, by Tawni Brooks and her husband, Bobby, originated to recover damages for the alleged harmful effects of surgical mesh implanted after a double mastectomy. Tawni Brooks had two surgeries, one in 2014 and another in 2015, performed by Dr. Kitti Outlaw at Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile, Alabama. In the first surgery, surgical mesh was implanted, allegedly later causing severe complications and medical problems.

On March 1, 2016, Tawni Brooks requested a copy of her medical records from Springhill so that she could determine the manufacturer of the mesh that was implanted, the ruling states.

The ruling states on March 19, 2016, Brooks’ attorney filed a suit against Outlaw and “various fictitiously named defendants.” In her petition, she sued her doctor and the makers of the mesh over allegations of medical negligence.

When she learned the names of the two companies she thought had manufactured the mesh, on Jan. 31, 2017, she filed an amended petition with the court. The report she received from the hospital named the manufacturers as Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon Inc.  However, this later proved to be incorrect information.

On March 16, 2017, Brooks again amended her petition, this time naming Integra Life Sciences and Atrium Medical Corp. as manufacturers of the mesh. 

Integra filed an answer saying that Brooks’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations because in her original petition, she did not name Integra. The company said that she could have discovered Integra’s identify using information in the hospital report, which did not name Integra, but did give the name of the mesh product. Integra asked the court for a summary judgment on May 11, 2017. However, on March 15, the trial court denied Integra’s motion for summary judgment.

That decision was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and on Aug. 24.

“Although the parties do not agree on the date the statute of limitations began to run, the allegations of Brooks' complaint make clear that her first injury occurred more than two years before she amended her complaint to add Integra as a defendant on March 16, 2017," the ruling states. "Accordingly, unless Brooks’s amendment relates back to the filing of her original complaint, her Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (AEMLD) claim against Integra is barred by the two-year statute of limitations. 

"We grant the petition and issue the writ directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment in favor of Integra as to Brooks' AEMLD claim against it,” the ruling states.

However, the judge said that Brooks’ breach of warranty claim did fall within the four-year statute of limitations for that type of claim. 

“With respect to the breach-of-warranty claim,” he said, “Integra has not established a clear legal right to relief. As to that claim, the petition is denied.”

Chief Justice Lyn Stuart and Associate Justices Michael F. Bolin, Tom Parker, Greg Shaw, Alisa Kelli Wise, Tommy Bryan, William B. Sellers and Brady E. Mendheim Jr. concurred.

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