Evidence Presented Regarding Prior Acts of Hospital Held Irrelevant and Inadmissible Under Doctrine of Curative Admissibility
Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Walker Baptist Medical Center
A child’s father brought a medical malpractice action against WBMC and Dr. Jeffrey Wilbanks in October 2011, alleging that Dr. Wilbanks negligently, wantonly, and/or recklessly breached the applicable standard of care by failing to timely diagnose the child with meningitis, and that WBMC was vicariously liable for his conduct. On the first day of trial, the father stipulated to the dismissal without prejudice of his claims against Dr. Wilbanks. Thus, the claims against WBMC based on vicarious liability or respondeat superior were presented to the jury for consideration. At trial, counsel for WBMC asked the hospital’s corporate representative if she had ever heard of the notion of a hospital controlling or supervising the conduct of its independent physicians, to which she replied in the negative. Following the exchange, plaintiff’s counsel offered into evidence several prior claims and lawsuits against WBMC.
The jury returned a verdict of $10,000,000 against WBMC. WBMC filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial, arguing that it was entitled to a new trial based on the trial court’s admission of evidence of prior medical malpractice claims against WBMC. The trial court denied the motion, and WBMC appealed.
The Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court noted that the dispositive issue on appeal was the trial court’s admission of evidence of prior medical malpractice claims against WBMC. The Court held that Ala. Code § 6-5-551 prohibits the admission into evidence the acts or omissions of a health care provider not related to the case at bar. The Court noted the exception that a party may offer such evidence if the health care provider “opened the door” to such information, known as the doctrine of curative admissibility. Despite plaintiff’s counsel’s argument that he intended to use the evidence of prior medical malpractice claims simply to prove that WBMC was aware of other allegations against it for the conduct of its doctors, the Court held that the record from the trial court reflected that “he used the opportunity to also introduce the damning, inflammatory facts and horrific injuries in each of those prior cases.” Thus, the Court held that the facts presented to the jury were irrelevant for the purposes of curative admissibility and highly prejudicial.