Jones judge to determine if Laurel nursing home licensed

Published 11:31 pm Saturday, September 1, 2007

Licensing by the state is required before a defendant can claim protections under tort laws in medical malpractice actions, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled.

The Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a Jones County judge’s order that dismissed a lawsuit filed by Robert Lee Saul against Yvonne Jenkins and her nursing home.

Circuit Judge Billy Joe Landrum in 2006 dismissed the lawsuit for several reasons, including Saul’s failure to give Jenkins 60 days notice that he intended to file the action.

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The Supreme Court said Landrum must determine whether Extra Care was a licensed health care provider, a prerequisite to claiming protection from malpractice claims.

According to the court record, Saul was in the nursing home from May 5, 2004, through June 6, 2004. Saul claimed he was in stable condition when he arrived at Extra Care, but his condition deteriorated.

On June 6, 2004, he was admitted to South Central Regional Medical Hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia, dehydration and severe bed sores, according to court documents.

Saul sued Extra Care in 2006 for negligence. Jenkins moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that Saul, among other things, had failed to comply with the 60-day notice requirement of the law.

Saul argued that Jenkins was neither licensed nor certified to provide health care and therefore ineligible for the protections of tort laws.

Presiding Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing Thursday for the Supreme Court, said tort laws bar malpractice lawsuits against doctors, hospitals and other licensed health care providers unless they are filed within two years of the date of the alleged wrongful act. He said the law also requires plaintiffs to provide 60 days notice of intention to file a lawsuit.

Waller said questions about whether a health care provider is licensed is key to the law.

“Operating such an institution without a license is illegal per se,” Waller wrote. “This licensing requirement exists to insure safe, sanitary and reasonably adequate care of individuals while under the care of nursing home facilities.

Waller said the law clearly applies only to licensed health care providers.

“Extending notice protections to unlicensed individuals rewards a disregard for the law, because it affords unlicensed institutions the same benefits as licensed, law-abiding institutions.

“If Jenkins lacked a proper license during this time, she is not entitled to the same protections given to those properly licensed institutions,” he said.