Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and their attorneys have all of the resources necessary to mount a vigorous defense. And, when all else fails, "delay, delay, delay" is an apt motto for the prevailing legal strategy among large corporations and the law firms making millions to protect them.
Montgomery wrongful death attorneys note this Alabama Supreme Court decision last month reaffirming a $4 million award in a Mobile wrongful death case is a perfect example of the lengths to which the opposition will go to avoid accepting responsibility. In Boudreaux v. Pettaway the state Supreme Court upheld a $4 million award to the family of a 32-year-old mobile woman who died at Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile.
The jury, having listened to all the facts, had originally awarded $20 million to the estate of Paulett Pettaway Hall. The family had sued Dr. Randall Boudreaux and other defendant's including his employer, Coastal Anesthesia. Hall presented at the hospital with abdominal pain and vomiting after having previously undergone gastric bypass surgery. Trial testimony revealed she was given anesthesia via routine induction, despite the risk of aspiration given her medical history.
Post verdict, defendants appealed, requesting a remittitur of the damage award and a new trial. A remittitur is a request of the judge to lower the damage awarded by the jury in a civil suit, typically because it's greater than even the amount requested by the plaintiff. In cases in which it is granted, the victim's family may either accept the reduced award or request a new trial.
In this case, the plaintiff's agreed to the reduced $4 million reward. However, instead of paying just one-fifth of the amount awarded by a jury of the victim's peers, the defendants again appealed, claiming the court should have granted a new trial. And, in the alternative, that it was entitled to a further reduction of the jury award!
A total of $1 million in insurance coverage had already been deposited with the clerk-of-court's office. Court records indicate the anesthesiology practice paid 7 physicians more than $11 million during a recent four-year time span and was generating annual profits in excess of $5 million.
"Given the defendant's income and the strength of their bad-faith claim, as evaluated by the trial court, there is no evidence demonstrating that the current award will financially devastate the defendants," the court wrote in denying both requests.
The court cited Mutual Assurance, Inc. v Madden, 627 So. 2d 865 (Ala. 1993) as it related to settling bad faith claims. In this case, the court notes the victim's family attempted to settle the case within the $1 million policy limits before trial. The insurer refused but then attempted to settle for less than the limits during trial.
"[The adjuster] did indeed put MAG Mutual's insureds at risk for an excess verdict when, during the course of the trial, after hearing all the evidence from all the expert witnesses establishing that there were breaches of the standards of care, [the adjuster] elected instead to try to save his employer money while exposing its insureds to the likelihood of an explosive verdict that would far exceed the $1 million coverage limits."
Unfortunately, this case is far from unusual. In fact, it's typical. When choosing an Alabama personal injury or wrongful death law firm, it's important to select a firm with the knowledge, experience and resources to properly litigate your case.