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Crutchfield v. Magnolia Regional Health Center

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 5, 2018

DELTON CRUTCHFIELD AND LORI CRUTCHFIELD APPELLANTS
v.
MAGNOLIA REGIONAL HEALTH CENTER APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/03/2016

          ALCORN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES SETH ANDREW POUNDS TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: EDGAR CLARK TROUT THOMAS ROY TROUT KRISTIAN ALICIA MCCRAY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: L. BRADLEY DILLARD

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. The Alcorn County Circuit Court granted summary judgment against Delton Crutchfield-then a named plaintiff but since deceased-and Lori Crutchfield. The Crutchfields now appeal, maintaining that the court erred in granting summary judgment. We affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Delton was admitted to Magnolia Regional Health Center (Magnolia Regional) on September 18, 2011, after suffering a heart attack. While under the care of Magnolia Regional, Delton developed decubitus ulcers on his coccyx, left buttocks, left heel, right trochanter, right lateral gluteus, right ischium, and sacrum. Delton was discharged from Magnolia Regional on October 25, 2011. However, his wounds gradually worsened and ultimately resulted in amputation of his lower left extremity. Delton's health continued to deteriorate until his death on July 24, 2016.

         ¶3. About three and a half years prior to Delton's death, on November 16, 2012, the Crutchfields filed their initial complaint against Magnolia Regional, asserting that he had developed the decubitus ulcers as a result of their negligent treatment. Attached to that complaint was an affidavit by counsel for the Crutchfields, alleging that he had conferred with a medical expert, Dr. Irving Vinger, who concluded that there was a reasonable basis to bring suit against Magnolia Regional.[1]

         ¶4. Either late 2012 or early 2013, Magnolia Regional propounded written discovery to the Crutchfields, including interrogatories wherein it asked them to identify each person they expected to call as an expert witness at trial. In February 2013, the Crutchfields responded, "No decision has been made as to which experts the Plaintiffs will designate to testify at the trial of this matter, " and "Plaintiffs will supplement this interrogatory when a decision as to who will be testifying as an expert(s) at the trial of this matter [has been made]." Magnolia Regional maintains-and the Crutchfields readily admit-that no such designation was ever made.

         ¶5. On January 7, 2015, the Crutchfields filed a motion for a scheduling order and trial date; however, no trial date was ever formally set.[2] On May 26, 2016, Magnolia Regional filed a motion for summary judgment, on the basis that the Crutchfields had failed to designate an expert witness in support of their medical-negligence claims. The record indicates that on July 25, 2016, and on August 19, 2016, the Crutchfields issued two subpoenas for Delton's medical records from Baptist Union County Hospital and North Mississippi Medical Center, respectively. The docket sheet provides that the medical records from Baptist Memorial Hospital were filed with the court on September 15, 2016. There is no such entry regarding the records from North Mississippi Medical Center, and the Crutchfields maintain that those records were never filed. On September 7, 2016, the Crutchfields filed a response to Magnolia Regional's motion for summary judgment, along with a Rule 56(f) motion for continuance, [3] wherein they asserted that they had retained two experts in this case, but that they were not yet required to designate those experts under the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court.[4] They further argued that Magnolia Regional's motion was "premature, " because "additional discovery" was needed "to fully develop the facts so that the [Crutchfields'] retained experts may render complete opinions with regard to [Magnolia Regional's] breaches in the minimum standards of care and how those breaches caused the [Crutchfields'] injuries." However, the Crutchfields failed to specify the required additional facts.

         ¶6. The following day, on September 8, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on Magnolia Regional's motion for summary judgment. Counsel for the Crutchfields argued that he had secured two experts who would testify "that there were clear breaches in the minimum standard of care in this case and that those breaches caused [Delton] injuries." When asked why those experts had not been designated, the Crutchfields' counsel replied, "Rule 4.04 requires me to do it [sixty] days before trial. . . . I don't mind giving it to them, but just would like to finish the discovery in this case. There are subpoenas to the North Mississippi Medical Center for a medical chart that my expert needs to review." Counsel for the Crutchfields contended that there had been a "little hiccup" in retaining experts, and that he had abandoned his initially retained expert in favor of a different one "roughly a couple years later or so after filing the case." Counsel also stated that he had additionally retained a nursing expert, who he initially obtained "a couple years" ago. The court then asked if counsel for the Crutchfields had considered bringing his experts to testify at the motion hearing, to which he replied, "I thought about it, Your Honor, and I thought about getting an affidavit. But 4.04 ...


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