Supreme Court orders new trial in 13-year-old Ala. wrongful death lawsuit over stillborn child

By Gabriel Neves | Jan 24, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled a woman is entitled to a new trial in a wrongful death lawsuit against a physician and medical group over her stillborn son.

The panel of justices at the Alabama Supreme Court issued a 40-page ruling on Jan. 11, reversing the DeKalb Circuit Court decision in the lawsuit filed by Amy Langley Hamilton against Dr. Warren Scott and Isbell Medical Group PC. Hamilton sued Scott and Isbell Medical Group over allegations of wrongful death of her son, Tristian.

"We conclude that no reversible error occurred in the trial court's exclusion of Hamilton's testimony about (ultrasound technician Tracy) Talley's statements during the Feb. 25, 2005, ultrasound exam or its refusal to use Tristian's name in its instructions to the jury," the opinion states. 

"However, the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to give jury instructions explaining the 'better-position' principle in the context of Hamilton's claims against Dr. Scott and IMG. Thus, on that basis, Hamilton is entitled to a new trial."

Justices Michael Bolin, Alisa Wise, Tommy Bryan, William Sellers and Brady Mendheim Jr. concurred to the opinion. Justice Tom Parker concurred specially, and justices Lyn Stuart and Greg Shaw dissented.

As stated in the ruling, "on Jan. 10, 2005, Hamilton, who was pregnant, contacted IMG to explain that she had a rash on her arms and chest and that she was concerned it might be 'fifth disease,' an infection caused by human parvovirus B19," and her primary care physician asked her to come in the next day for a blood test.

Hamilton was diagnosed with parvovirus, and an ultrasound was performed in February 2005.

"The ultrasound showed that the baby was 18 weeks and 6 days in gestational age at that time. Hamilton testified that during the ultrasound she 'became aware' of 'certain abnormalities that [Talley] had seen,'" the ruling said.

"Hamilton returned to IMG on March 8, 2005, because she was feeling ill," the opinion states. "She came back to IMG on March 10, 2005, and an ultrasound was performed that day. The ultrasound indicated that Tristian had no heartbeat and that hydrops was present. Hamilton went to the hospital the following day to have the stillborn child delivered."

Hamilton sued Scott and IMG in 2006 citing the Alabama Wrongful Death Act and allegations of breach of standard of care. A jury trial decided in defendants' favor in August 2015.

The plaintiff filed for a motion for a new trial, but it was denied. The plaintiff appealed, citing that the trial court "erred in refusing to give her requested jury instructions that incorporated the 'better-position' principle from Parker (v. Collins), an error Hamilton says caused the jury to misunderstand what she had to prove," the opinion states.

In a dissenting opinion written by Shaw, the justice said he would not hold that that trial court exceeded its discretion in refusing to give "Hamilton's requested jury charge incorporating the 'better-position' principle."

"I believe that the trial court's instruction adequately explained the tissue of causation; any instruction regarding prompt care and treatment that could have placed the unborn child in a 'better' position was potentially confusing and unwarranted under the facts of this case."

Alabama Supreme Court Case number 1150377

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