Supreme Court of Alabama Ruling Regarding Sovereign Immunity
In a significant decision regarding sovereign immunity, The Supreme Court of Alabama has affirmed a $3.2 medical malpractice wrongful death verdict in Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System, d/b/a Baptist Medical Center East v. Davis.
Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System, d/b/a Baptist Medical Center East v. Davis, No. 1090084, __ So.3d __ (Ala. May 17, 2013) (Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court) (On Application for Rehearing) (Application Granted; Opinion of January 14, 2011, Withdrawn; Opinion Substituted; Affirmed) (Murdock, J.; Parker, Main, and Wise, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in part and concurs in the result in part; Moore, C.J., concurs in the result; Stuart, Bolin, and Shaw, JJ., dissent) (109 pages of opinions):
The $3.2 medical malpractice wrongful death verdict is affirmed.
The main opinion concludes: “State immunity would apply only if the Authority were an ‘immediate and strictly governmental agency of the State.’ It is not. It therefore is not entitled to either form of governmental immunity it requests, and the judgment of the trial court therefore is due to be affirmed.”
Section 11 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 declares “[t]hat the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” The decision in Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Davis is a great victory for the citizens of Alabama in that their inviolate right to a jury trial has been preserved and protected by our Supreme Court. The Court correctly and courageously held that the BHC Authority is a separate legal entity and not entitled to state immunity because it is not a “state entity” or an “arm of the state.” To hold otherwise would have opened Pandora’s box to a floodgate of immunity claims from non-state entities, all to the detriment of injured persons’ constitutional rights to seek compensation for their injuries in a court of law. Further, the Supreme Court held that the BHC Authority is not a “governmental entity,” within the meaning of the $100,000 cap on damages applicable to local “governmental entities,” such as city and county health care authorities. The Court correctly recognized that it was unconstitutional for the legislature to attempt to extend this cap to non-governmental entities, such as the BMC Authority. The Court, by this decision, has made it clear that it will not allow absolute state immunity (sovereign immunity) or the $100,000 limitation on damages to be extended to entities which are not an “immediate and strictly governmental agency of the State” or a local “governmental entity.”