Miss. Supreme Court to hear appeal of $534K judgment against UMC

Published 4:57 pm Friday, January 4, 2008

The state Supreme Court will hear the appeal of a $534,025 medical malpractice award from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which was accused by the family of a Carthage woman of failing to diagnose a case of pneumonia that led to her death.

The state Court of Appeals upheld the malpractice award last May. On Thursday, the Supreme Court, on a 4-4 vote, granted UMC’s request to hear the case.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green in 2005 ruled for Gloria Johnson, Brenda Easter’s sister, who sued the hospital.

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UMC had argued that Green allowed hearsay evidence and disregarded testimony favorable to the hospital.

According to the court record, Easter entered the Jackson hospital on Aug. 17, 1999, for a Caesarean section. Easter gave birth to a healthy daughter but began to have difficulty breathing and suffered from elevated blood pressure.

Testimony at the trial was that Easter told a woman with whom she was sharing a room that she felt like she was drowning when she laid down.

Easter left the hospital on Aug. 20 and returned to her Carthage home. She died Aug. 22, 1999, at Leake County Hospital after experiencing trouble breathing. An autopsy showed she suffered from bronchopneumonia.

On appeal, UMC attacked the testimony of Sandra Russell, Easter’s roommate at the hospital. UMC said Russell was being treated with pain medication while she shared a room with Easter and offered contradictory statements about Easter’s condition, which were not supported by Easter’s medical records.

UMC also contended that Russell’s testimony about Easter’s breathing problems was inadmissible hearsay.

The Appeals Court said the issue of UMC’s negligence did not hinge on the testimony of Russell. The court said negligence could only be shown by the testimony of medical experts and on that basis Russell’s testimony was irrelevant.

Also, the Appeals Court said Russell’s testimony was not hearsay, because she was testifying about what Easter told her.

The Appeals Court also rejected UMC’s argument that the trial judge erred in finding that Easter developed bronchopneumonia before her release from UMC. The hospital said there was no expert testimony to support that finding and Easter could have developed it after her discharge because she died 36 hours after her release.

The Appeals Court said a medical expert testified that the pneumonia was preexisting and it would have shown up on an X-ray.

UMC said the trial judge ignored the testimony of its experts, who provided another explanation for the cause of Easter’s symptoms.

The Appeals Court said the court record showed the judge gave consideration to both sides.