Significant defense ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court reversing a 2.1 million dollar jury verdict in a medical malpractice-wrongful death case


Feb 2024

McDowell Knight attorneys Craig Hamilton, Skip Wilson, and Fraser Reid represented two Alabama hospitals who had been sued for medical malpractice arising out of the treatment of an elderly patient who developed a pressure injury and died several months later. The family of the decedent claimed that the hospitals were negligent in failing to properly and timely turn the patient and by failing to implement other pressure relief protocols. The pressure ulcer progressed into a Stage 4 and the decedent developed osteomyelitis (infection in the bone). The family claimed that the osteomyelitis caused the decedent to suffer acute sepsis and led to her rapid decline and death.

The defense presented evidence including testimony from multiple medical experts to explain that the pressure ulcer progressed because of a myriad of underlying health problems and not from any negligence of the hospital staff. The defense also aggressively challenged plaintiff’s medical expert on causation and presented its own causation experts to demonstrate that the decedent was not suffering from sepsis when she died based on the objective medical data.

Following a two week trial in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff-decedent’s estate and awarded $2.1 million in damages. The defense appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court arguing two main points of error: (1) the trial court erred during voir dire by failing to grant the defense’s challenges for cause to multiple jurors who admitted some bias in favor of the plaintiff’s position; and (2) the plaintiff failed to present substantial evidence through expert medical testimony to prove that sepsis caused the decedent’s death.

In a unanimous decision issued on November 17, 2023, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the jury’s verdict and remanded the case for entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of the hospital defendants. In what will be a very strong opinion for medical malpractice defendants challenging causation, the Court found that plaintiff failed to present competent expert testimony to prove that sepsis caused the decedent’s death. The Court did not have to address the defense’s challenge to the trial court’s decisions during voir dire.

The opinion is Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center and Gulf Health Hospitals, Inc. d/b/a Thomas Hospital v. Wayne Fagerstrom, individually and as administrator of the Estate of Sylvia Fagerstrom, deceased, 2023 WL 7934829 (Ala. Nov. 17, 2023).

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