Wrongful death plaintiff can try for nurse's personnel file again, Ala. SC rules

By William Sassani | Sep 18, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Alabama has ruled in favor of the estate of Frederick O’Brian Elliot, who died in 2015 while in the care of Baptist Health Systems.

In its 23-page ruling on Sept. 7, the court granted the estate's petition for writ of mandamus ordering the Jefferson Circuit Court in the case to reverse its order denying the estate's request of documents from Baptist Health. The request includes the personnel file for a nurse who had been in the direct care of Elliot, as well as any disciplinary records for that nurse. 

Additionally, the estate requested any disciplinary records for any other employees associated with Elliot’s care, as well as any documents connected to an internal audit or review of Elliot’s case. 

The plaintiffs argued that the defendants had not shown that the documents requested were considered privileged information because the defendants did not provide proof for this status. The defendants argued that the documents contained information regarding quality-assurance that they argued was privileged.

The court noted that “without any description of the documents that were being withheld, the estate could not effectively formulate a response to the defendants’ assertion of privilege.” 

Also, since the trial court did not require a privilege log, “the trial court denied the estate of the opportunity to present an effective argument on appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of its requests” for the documents, the Supreme Court said. 

Elliott's estate sued Baptist Health Systems and a nurse over allegations of wrongful death in 2017. The lawsuit states that the nurse allegedly discontinued a nutrition bag for Elliot, who had been in the hospital for nausea and vomiting, as well as for gastritis. 

His treatment included full bowel reset, which included the use of a Trans-Peritoneal Nutrition bag. The nurse, it is alleged, mistakenly disconnected the bag and threw it in the trash. After later realizing her mistake, she returned to Elliot’s room, removed the bag from the trash, and reconnected to Elliot’s catheter line, it is alleged.

Afterward, Elliot developed a 102.5-degree temperature, was sweating profusely and became tachycardic. His blood showed that he had developed an infection and was septic. Although treated he was treated with IV antibiotics, Elliot died. 

His estate, as part of the lawsuit, requested documents relating to the nurse's employment and also any administrative follow-up done by the hospital. 

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