Personal injury suits against doctors are generally referred to as medical malpractice lawsuits. Such lawsuits are governed by the Alabama Medical Liability Act (AMLA), which generally requires the filer of the lawsuit to retain a medical expert to testify that the doctor against whom they wish to bring the lawsuit has violated the appropriate standard of care. Without providing this expert testimony, a lawsuit against a doctor is generally dismissed.
The AMLA provides an exception to this requirement if the wrong done by the doctor or medical institution is so obvious that one does not have to be a doctor to recognize that it is inappropriate. In other words, the “common layman” could understand, based on common experience, that the doctor or medical institution made an error. It is important to remember that this exception is a narrow one; however, in two recent cases, the Alabama Supreme Court identified situations where errors are such that expert testimony is not required.
In Morgan v. Publix, a customer of Publix brought a lawsuit against the chain’s pharmacy department. She alleged that she received the wrong medication from a Publix pharmacist when she went to have a prescription filled. Upon consuming the incorrect medicine, she suffered several negative medical reactions similar to an allergic reaction, such as swelling and hives. The lawsuit stated that she would not have suffered these personal injuries if she had been issued the proper medication.
In McGathey v. Brookwood Health Services, a patient brought a lawsuit against the hospital where she underwent surgery. During the operation, which involved surgery on her shoulder, the rest of her arm was attached to a metal bar in order to hold the arm still. As a result of a sterilization procedure, the bar was very hot. When the patient woke up after surgery she had sustained second and third-degree burns on her arm. The lawsuit stated these burns would not have happened if the bar had been properly cooled prior to surgery.
In both of these cases, the Alabama Supreme Court said that expert testimony was not necessary for the lawsuit to proceed. The Court said that one did not have to be a medical expert to understand that it was dangerous to either consume improper medication or to have one’s arm directly touching a bar that was very hot. As a result, the lawsuits were not dismissed and the plaintiffs were able to recover monetary damages.
During its discussion of the AMLA, the Supreme Court emphasized that the common layman exception to the AMLA’s requirement of expert testimony was a narrow one. Despite this, by providing specific examples of cases where expert testimony is not required, the Court has made similar lawsuits easier to bring in the future. The attorneys at Parkman and White, LLC are very familiar with the AMLA specifically and personal injury lawsuits more broadly. If you are interested in bringing a lawsuit against a doctor or medical institution please contact the firm at 205-502-2000.