Alabama Supreme Court reverses $20 million malpractice award, orders new trial

By Gabriel Neves | Oct 10, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The family of a Gadsden woman who allegedly died as a result of malpractice and negligence had a $20 million decision in their favor reversed.

State Justice William B. Sellers, on the panel of the Alabama Supreme Court, issued a 38-page ruling on Sept. 28 reversing an Etowah Circuit Court decision in the lawsuit filed by the daughter of Doris Green, Regina Honts, against HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden LLC. The case was remanded for a new trial.

Honts sued the hospital over allegations of malpractice against her mother Green, who she claims died as a result of an erroneous diagnosis. HealthSouth, the owner of the hospital, filed for a motion for a new trial, which was granted by the court.

As stated in the ruling, "in late June 2011, Green was suffering from a persistent urinary tract infection (UTI). Her physicians admitted her to Gadsden Regional Medical Center, an acute-care facility, for treatment of the UTI, then transferred her to HRHG [HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden] for two weeks of rehabilitation."

Also stated in the ruling, "on July 4, 2011, at 6:20 p.m., Green's attending physician, Dr. Sunil Jaiswal, saw Green in her room at HRHG and determined that 'everything look[ed] good.'" Green had all her body functions working properly, and did not need artificial oxygen.

Hospital nurse Catherine Fuller was assigned to take care of Green that evening.

Records showed, per the ruling, that Fuller "administered one Lortab tablet, a narcotic, to Green's roommate at 8:15 p.m.," with nurse Amy Gamble taking over after 1 a.m.

Gamble stated that "In the early morning hours on July 5, 2011, something happened to Green, but no one knows how or by whom," and that around 4:40 a.m. on July 5, "Gamble found Green in her room in a nonresponsive state."

Green was transported to Gadsden Regional, and an urinalysis screen confirmed "the presence of opiates in Green's system." She received Narcan, a narcotic antidote, for a few days.

There was no evidence that Green was prescribed opiate medications. Green was discharged on July 22, 2011, dying of a stroke on Oct. 22, 2011.

Two years later, Honts sued the hospital for medical malpractice and negligence, with a jury awarding $20 million in damages to her.

In his ruling, Sellers concluded that "charging the jury as to the hospital standard of care after the only testimony concerning the applicable standard of care was regarding the standard of care for nurses was misleading and erroneous."

Alabama Supreme Court case number 1160045

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