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Jones v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle Inc.

March 18, 1999

DANNY G. JONES
v.
BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL-GOLDEN TRIANGLE, INC.; LOWNDES COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; IRENE CUNNINGHAM; ANITA DAVIS; T. BILINKSKI; BARBARA LITTLE; CAROLYN DESOTO; DIANE BAINE; AND UNKNOWN OR MISNAMED NURSES WHO TREATED DANNY JONES DANNY G. JONES
v.
GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, A HOSPITAL; LOWNDES COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; IRENE CUNNINGHAM; ANITA DAVIS; T. BILINKSKI; BARBARA LITTLE; CAROLYN DESOTO; DIANE BAINE; AND UNKNOWN OR MISNAMED NURSES WHO TREATED DANNY JONES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/04/98

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN M. MONTGOMERY

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 3/18/99

EN BANC.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶1. On March 6, 1998, the circuit court of Lowndes County granted defendants' separate motions to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment thereby dismissing from suit defendants Baptist Memorial Hospital ("BMH"), Irene Cunningham, Anita Davis, Barbara Little, Terri Bilinski, and Carolyn Desoto (collectively, "nurse defendants"). On March 23, 1998, the circuit court issued an order dismissing defendants Lowndes County, Mississippi and Golden Triangle Regional Medical Center ("Golden Triangle") from the action. As a result of the dismissals, all claims against all defendants were adjudicated.

¶2. Danny G. Jones filed his first complaint alleging medical malpractice on July 15, 1994 (94-075-CV1) and later filed a second complaint on February 10, 1995 (95-015-CV1). The allegations in the latter complaint are consistent with the first; however, the latter added Diane Baine as a nurse defendant. Each complaint asserts Mr. Jones suffered permanent paralysis below the waist resulting from acts and omissions constituting medical negligence committed by the nurses employed by Golden Triangle. *fn1 Specifically, during the period between January 29, 1993 and January 31, 1993 the nurses allegedly failed to diagnose and treat an epidural abscess resulting from scratches and abrasions Jones obtained while deer hunting during the previous week. Jones lost permanent use of both legs as a result of the abscess.

¶3. At the time the alleged negligence transpired, Golden Triangle was a community hospital owned by Lowndes County, Mississippi and operated as a political subdivision of the State of Mississippi. On March 19, 1993, Baptist Memorial Health Care System, Inc. leased from Lowndes County the facilities formerly operated by Golden Triangle and thereafter operated the hospital under the name of Baptist Memorial Hospital.

¶4. Paragraph 19.5 of the lease agreement states, "Any and all claims arising from the incidents on or before the commencement date shall be the sole responsibility of the Lessor [Golden Triangle]." Relying on this exculpatory language, the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of BMH, finding BMH was not liable for any negligent acts or omissions which occurred before BMH leased the premises from Golden Triangle. Further, the lower court found the nurses immune from liability by virtue of the Mississippi Sovereign Immunity Act. Finally, on March 23, 1998 the Circuit Court dismissed Lowndes County, Mississippi and Golden Triangle from the suit due to Jones's failure to file a "notice of claim" with Lowndes county as required by Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11. Aggrieved, Jones assigns the following issues for review by this Court:

I. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF NURSE DEFENDANTS PURSUANT TO THE DOCTRINE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY.

II. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DISMISSING LOWNDES COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI AND GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER ON THE GROUND THAT THE SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY ACT BARRED SUIT AGAINST DEFENDANTS; THAT JONES FAILED TO FILE A "NOTICE OF CLAIM" WITHIN ONE YEAR OF THE DATE OF THE INJURY; AND THAT JONES FAILED TO MEET THE APPLICABLE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS REQUIREMENT.

III. WHETHER DEFENDANTS LOWNDES COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI AND GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER WAIVED THEIR RIGHT TO ASSERT SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY BY PURCHASING LIABILITY INSURANCE.

IV. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DISMISSING BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL-GOLDEN TRIANGLE, INC.

ANALYSIS

¶5. Whether all defendants were properly dismissed in the present case turns upon whether the defendants were shielded by the law of sovereign immunity at the time the cause of action accrued. The time period at issue includes three days: January 29, 1993 to January 31, 1993. The Circuit Court relied on the Sovereign Immunity Act, Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-1, et. seq. in granting summary judgment and dismissing all defendants. However, the lower court's statutory reliance was misplaced. The pertinent provisions of the present Sovereign Immunity Act were not finally implemented by the legislature until April 1, 1993. The applicable statutes in the instant case are found in the 1992 Special Session Amendments to Mississippi Code Annotated (1972). Specifically, § 11-46-3 and § 11-46-16 of House Bill No. 2 (1992) as well as Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-7(2) determine the outcome of this case, as they are controlling regarding the law of sovereign immunity in causes of action which accrued from September 16, 1992 until April 1, 1993. Laws of the 1992 ...


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