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AL Supreme Court delivers highest malpractice award in state history

The case of Springhill vs. West has set the record for the highest punitive damages award in Alabama’s medical malpractice history.

Although a post-judgment order saw the original $35 million punitive damages reduced to $10 million, it still surpassed the previous record by a staggering 54%.

The case stems from a wrongful death action by Patricia West, representing the estate of her deceased husband, John West, against Springhill Hospitals after an accident in June 2014.

West sought emergency treatment at Springhill’s emergency room and, while the initial surgical treatment was successful, reckless administration of pain medication afterward was believed to have led to his death.

Justice Greg Cook, in his dissent last week, shared strong reservations about the magnitude of the punitive damages.

“The facts are tragic and the evidence is overwhelming. However, I respectfully dissent as to the affirmance of the award of punitive damages in the amount of $10 million,” he wrote.

“Affirming the trial court’s $10 million punitive damages award in this case will raise the highest medical-malpractice punitive damages award ever affirmed in Alabama from $6.5 million to $10 million. This is a 54% increase (before considering inflation) over our highest award ever (at least post-Gore and for over 30 years).”

The jury determination of $35 million in punitive damages was later reduced to $10 million by the Mobile Circuit Court, breaking the previous record established by Johnson v. Burdinski.

“In other words, in less than two years, we will have moved the highest medical malpractice award ever upheld by this Court from $4 million to $10 million — an increase of a total of 150%,” Cook wrote. 

Cook’s calculations show that even adjusting for inflation, the jump in awards in recent years is consequential.

“Comparing the inflation-adjusted highest award before September 2021 (Boudreaux — $5.2 million) to a $10 million award in this case still produces an increase of 92% in less than two years,” he said.

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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