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Jackson HMA, LLC v. Harris

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

February 1, 2018

JACKSON HMA, LLC d/b/a MERIT HEALTH CENTRAL f/d/b/a CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER
v.
EVELYN HARRIS, AS THE ADMINISTRATRIX AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF MELVIN HARRIS

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/15/2016

         HINDS COUNTY COUNTY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LARITA M. COOPER-STOKES

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: WARREN LOUIS MARTIN, JR. STEPHEN P. KRUGER JOHN W. CHAPMAN WHITMAN B. JOHNSON, III BENJAMIN COLLIER LEWIS SENICA MANUEL TUBWELL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: STEPHEN P. KRUGER JOHN W. CHAPMAN THURMAN LAVELLE BOYKIN, III

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: WARREN LOUIS MARTIN, JR.

          KING, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Jackson HMA moved for summary judgment on Evelyn Harris's medical negligence claims, arguing that Harris failed to present expert medical testimony in support thereof. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment. Because Harris failed to present sworn expert medical testimony to support her claims, no genuine issue of material fact exists. This Court reverses the trial court's judgment and renders judgment in favor of Jackson HMA.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On June 18, 2014, Melvin Harris[1] was admitted to the Central Mississippi Medical Center[2] for an altered mental state with combativeness. Mr. Harris had previously been diagnosed with dementia. On June 21, while Mr. Harris was still a patient at the facility, a nurse checked on him at 6:40 p.m. At 7:00 p.m., the nurse checked on Mr. Harris again and found him sitting on his bathroom floor with a laceration to his head. Mr. Harris was sent to the Emergency Room and received staples.

         ¶3. After sending a notice of claim, Evelyn Harris, as holder of Mr. Harris's power of attorney, [3] filed a complaint against Jackson HMA, Dr. Hursie Davis-Sullivan, and several John Does. The facts of the complaint alleged that Mr. Harris was a patient at the hospital, that he presented to the hospital with a history of advanced dementia and disorientation, and that he "was left alone in his room with no restraints when he got out of bed and suffered a fall which resulted in a laceration to his head." The facts further allege that the defendants "were on actual notice of the Plaintiff's condition and were to have taken any and all corrective measures to ensure the safety of the Plaintiff as well as the hospital staff." Under Count I, for negligence, the complaint alleged that the defendants "possessed a duty of ordinary care (i) to make their premises safe and (ii) to inspect the premises. Defendants breached their duties and were negligent in failing to do what a reasonable, prudent doctor, hospital, and/or health care facility would have done under these circumstances." Count I also alleges medical malpractice, stating that Dr. Davis-Sullivan

did not do what a reasonable, ordinary doctor would do treating the Plaintiff. His [sic] treatment deviated from the appropriate standard of care. Because of this, Plaintiff suffered a fall which resulted in a laceration to his head. . . . These Defendants knew or should have known after reasonable inquiry that the physical, mental and psychological condition of Plaintiff . . . was not sufficient to allow him to be left unattended.

         Count II alleged "Negligence/Medical Malpractice/Respondeate [sic] Superior/Agency" without alleging any specific facts. Count III alleged Premises Liability. The complaint noted the Defendants' duty to the Plaintiff to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition. It then stated that the defendants "breached their duty by not properly medicating the Plaintiff based on his medical history of dementia and disorientation and by not providing proper measures as to ensure the Plaintiff's safety." Count IV alleged Gross Negligence, without stating specific facts. Count V alleged Res Ipsa Loquitur Liability, stating that "[a]t all relevant times, the instrumentality which caused the harm was under the supervision and/or control of these Defendants" and that "[a]bsent the exercise of reasonable care, the incident which caused the harm would not have occurred."

         ¶4. After discovery ensued, Jackson HMA filed a motion for summary judgment. It argued that Harris's medical malpractice action should be dismissed because no genuine issue of material fact existed. Jackson HMA emphasized that Harris failed to present any expert testimony to support a claim against Jackson HMA. It also attached an affidavit from its nursing expert, who opined that "the nursing staff of Central acted at all times within the standard of care for nurses in the state of Mississippi treating such a patient as Mr. Harris." Harris responded, noting that Jackson HMA "attack[ed] only Plaintiffs' claim for medical negligence / malpractice." She noted that the complaint alleged general negligence, medical malpractice negligence, respondeat superior, premises liability, and res ipsa loquitur liability. The response concluded that "[t]o this end, the undersigned counsel will address only the allegations raised as to the medical malpractice negligence cause." Harris attached to her response the Plaintiffs' Expert Designations and Dr. Davis-Sullivan's affidavit. Dr. Davis-Sullivan's affidavit stated that "My treatment of Mr. Harris was, at all times, appropriate, reasonable, and met the standard of care as it relates to physicians such as myself treating patients such as Mr. Harris." The trial court denied Jackson HMA's motion for summary judgment. Jackson HMA filed a petition for interlocutory appeal with this Court, and this Court ordered Harris to respond to the petition. A panel of this Court then granted the petition.

         ¶5. Jackson HMA argues that "no matter which way the claim is spun, " Harris's claim is one of pure medical negligence. Because Harris failed to submit sworn expert testimony in support of her claim, Jackson HMA argues that the trial court should have granted its motion for summary judgment. Harris argues that this appeal violates Mississippi Code Section 11-51-79, that she put forth several claims aside from medical negligence and Jackson HMA only addressed medical negligence, that the expert designation and affidavit of Dr. Davis-Sullivan establish the requisite ...


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