The Supreme Court of Alabama has denied a husband’s request for discovery regarding prior suicides committed by patients jumping from the defendant hospital’s parking garage in the husband’s Alabama medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital for his wife’s suicide committed by jumping from the same parking garage. The husband’s Alabama medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit also included a count for premises liability.
§ 6-5-551, Ala. Code 1975 provides in pertinent part: “In any action for injury, damages, or wrongful death, whether in contract or in tort, against a health care provider for breach of the standard of care … The plaintiff shall include in the complaint filed in the action a detailed specification and factual description of each act and omission alleged by plaintiff to render the health care provider liable to plaintiff and shall include when feasible and ascertainable the date, time, and place of the act or acts … Any party shall be prohibited from conducting discovery with regard to any other act or omission or from introducing at trial evidence of any other act or omission.”
The Alabama Supreme Court stated in the case it was deciding, “in accordance with § 6–5–551, discovery of any incidents of malpractice other than those specifically alleged in the complaint is precluded.”
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff’s wife arrived at the defendant hospital on January 24, 2018 to participate in a voluntary psychiatric outpatient-treatment program. At approximately 8:40 a.m., the wife registered for the 9:00 a.m. outpatient group-therapy session in which she had enrolled. She then left the therapy area, accessed a parking deck on the premises of the defendant hospital, and leaped to her death.
On November 28, 2018, the plaintiff filed a wrongful-death action against the defendant hospital for his wife’s suicide, alleging that the conduct of the defendant hospital’s nurses and security fell below the applicable standard of care. The husband further alleged “independent acts of negligence by corporate defendants,” that the defendant hospital “[a]fter actual notice of two previous suicides from the same parking deck, … failed to take measures to erect physical barriers or provide other deterrents like geo-fencing and landscaping to prevent suicide.”
The defendant hospital filed motions to preclude the plaintiff’s discovery requests regarding certain information and documents that pertained to the modifications made to the defendant hospital’s parking deck following previous suicides, arguing that the Alabama Medical Liability Act, § 6-5-480 et seq. and § 6-5-540 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 (“the AMLA”), prohibited such discovery. The court denied the defendant’s motion and the defendant filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Alabama Supreme Court.
Alabama Supreme Court Opinion
The Alabama Supreme Court stated that for purposes of review of the plaintiff’s mandamus petition, the plaintiff waived “any argument that might be based upon there being a separate and independent count for premises liability. Therefore, this Court will consider only whether the requested discovery is within the scope of permissible discovery pursuant to § 6-5-551, Ala. Code 1975, and Rule 26, Ala. R. Civ. P.” The Alabama Supreme Court continued: “in accordance with § 6–5–551, discovery of any incidents of malpractice other than those specifically alleged in the complaint is precluded.”
The Alabama Supreme Court held: “A review of [the plaintiff’s] complaint and the requested discovery reveals that the information sought is inextricably intertwined with the earlier suicides in the parking deck and that it does not address the alleged breach of the standard of care owed to [his wife]. Section 6-5-551 prohibits discovery of acts or omissions other than the ones specifically pleaded in the complaint. Here, [the plaintiff] alleges that [the defendant hospital’s] failure “to erect physical barriers or provide other deterrents like geo-fencing and landscaping to prevent suicide” was a breach of the standard of care [the defendant hospital] owed [to the plaintiff’s wife]. Whether changes had been considered and made or not made to the parking deck in the past is contingent, at least in part, on the facts underlying the earlier suicides. Any such considerations and determinations were in response to the earlier suicides and constitute “act[s] or omission[s]” with regard to the earlier suicides. Therefore, this information is not available in determining whether [the defendant hospital] provided a safe setting for [the plaintiff’s wife’s] care on the day of the incident.”
In a concurring opinion, one Justice stated, “If I were at liberty to assess [the plaintiff’s] discovery requests apart from his own characterizations and concessions, I would conclude that [the plaintiff] seeks to discover information pertaining to his allegations of premises liability against [the defendant hospital] and that, therefore, the requests are not governed by the AMLA. In his premises-liability count, [the plaintiff] alleges that [the defendant hospital] failed in its “duty to the public, including [the plaintiff’s wife], to use reasonable care and diligence to keep the premises at [the defendant hospital], including its parking decks, in safe condition for persons who come to the premises by invitation, expressed or implied.” The “acts or omissions” [the plaintiff] complains about in that count — and the information [the plaintiff] seeks in the discovery requests at issue — have nothing to do with the provision of medical services … [the plaintiff’s] discovery requests seeking information about what changes or modifications were made to the parking deck after the two previous suicides clearly pertain to his premises liability count.”
Source Ex parte BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, 1180961.
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