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Wright v. Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alabama

December 29, 2017

Clifford Goodman Wright, administrator of the Estate of Mary Evelyn Wright, deceased
v.
Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home, et al.

         Appeal from Cleburne Circuit Court (CV-13-900053)

          MURDOCK, Justice.

         Pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., this Court granted Clifford Goodman Wright ("Wright"), the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright, deceased, permission to appeal from an interlocutory order of the Cleburne Circuit Court ("the trial court"). In that order, the trial court ruled that the $100, 000 cap on damages set out in § 11-93-2, Ala. Code 1975, applied to Wright's claims against three nurses --Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the nurses") -- who were employees of the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"), at the times relevant to Wright's action. Section 11-93-2 governs "[t]he recovery of damages under any judgment against a [county or municipal] governmental entity." Because Wright sued the nurses seeking money damages in their individual capacities, the trial court erred in applying § 11-93-2 to Wright's claims. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the case.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In October 2013, Mary Evelyn Wright ("Mary") commenced a personal-injury action against "Cleburne County Hospital and Nursing Home, Inc." Mary asserted in her complaint that she had suffered injuries from a fall while she was a resident of a nursing home allegedly operated by the defendant ("the nursing home"). Mary died, allegedly from her injuries, the day after the complaint was filed. Wright was appointed the administrator of Mary's estate and was substituted as the plaintiff.

         In response to the complaint, the Hospital Board filed an answer indicating that it operated the nursing home where the incident occurred and that it was the proper defendant in the action. Thereafter, Wright amended the complaint to correctly identify the Hospital Board as the defendant. Wright also amended the complaint to add the nurses as defendants and to assert wrongful-death claims against the nurses and the Hospital Board.

         In the amended complaint, Wright alleged that the nurses provided health-care services to Mary while she was a resident of the nursing home, that the nurses negligently breached the applicable standard of care, and that those breaches proximately caused Mary's injuries and subsequent death. Specifically, Wright alleged that the nurses breached the standard of care by:

"(a) Negligently failing to provide adequate supervision to the nursing staff to aid Mary Evelyn Wright with ambulation when out of bed to prevent falls;
"(b) Negligently failing to provide appropriate nursing care in accordance with the [Hospital Board's] policy and procedure manual, the rules of the Alabama State Board of Health for facility, and the regulations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on care plans, fall risk assessments, and safety measures to prevent falls;
"(c) [F]ail[ing] to provide, assure, modify, and publish to nursing personnel nursing care plan revisions and modifications following the quarterly nursing review on 10/2/13 and the Interdisciplinary Care Plan Team meeting on 10/2/13 as the needs of Mary Evelyn Wright changed;
"(d) Negligently failing to implement and assure an adequate nursing care plan for Mary Evelyn Wright was followed by nursing personnel;
"(e) Negligently failing to add nursing interventions to protect Mary Evelyn Wright from falling since she had previously fallen in the facility on 9/28/13;
"(f) Negligently failing to properly assess Mary Evelyn Wright for the risk of falling;
"(g) Negligently failing to provide adequate safety measures to protect Mary Evelyn Wright from falling;
"(h) Negligently failing to provide appropriate assistance with ambulation and toileting;
"(i) Negligently failing to provide care, treatment, assessments and medication in accordance with the physicians' orders and standard nursing practice;
"(j) Negligently failing to maintain medical records which contained sufficient information to justify the diagnosis and treatment and to document the results, including documented evidence of assessments of the needs of Mary Evelyn Wright and establish appropriate plans of care, services, and treatment;
"(k) Negligently failing to appropriately monitor Mary Evelyn Wright and recognize signs and symptoms of a change in her health condition;
"(l) Negligently failing to properly notify the family of Mary Evelyn Wright of a change in her health condition; [and]
"(m) Negligently failing to notify the attending physician of Mary Evelyn Wright of a change in her health condition."

         Wright sued the nurses in their individual capacities. Wright also alleged that the nurses, at all relevant times, "were acting within the line and scope of their employment as the agent[s], servant[s], and/or employee[s] of [the Hospital Board]" and therefore that the Hospital Board was vicariously liable for the nurses' alleged acts and omissions.

         The Hospital Board and the nurses sought an order from the trial court declaring that Wright's claims are subject to the damages cap of § 11-93-2, Ala. Code 1975, which provides:

"The recovery of damages under any judgment against a governmental entity shall be limited to $100, 000.00 for bodily injury or death for one person in any single occurrence. Recovery of damages under any judgment or judgments against a governmental entity shall be limited to $300, 000.00 in the aggregate where more than two persons have claims or judgments on account of bodily injury or death arising out of any single occurrence. Recovery of damages under any judgment against a governmental entity shall be limited to $100, 000.00 for damage or loss of property arising out of any single occurrence. No governmental entity shall settle or compromise any claim for bodily injury, death or property damage in excess of the amounts hereinabove set forth."

         Thereafter, the trial court entered an order stating that "[t]he provisions of Ala. Code [1975, ] § 11-93-2[, ] shall apply to ... all claims asserted against the [nurses] in the line and scope of their employment" and that "[a]ny judgment rendered against any of the [d]efendants will be subject to the provisions of Ala. Code [1975, ] § 11-93-2." We granted Wright's request for ...


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