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MS: supervising physician at state hospital sued: 'employee' status cloaks physician with immunity.

CASE FACTS: Inda Lewis was admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) on October 22, 1996, for treatment of pain related to her previously diagnosed sickle cell anemia. The patient died the next day. Dr. Tom Skelton was the attending physician for the patient when she was admitted to UMMC. An autopsy performed at the request of the patient's family revealed the drugs Demerol and Meperdine Metabolite in the patient's blood. On January 26, 1998, Craig Corey, individually, and as administrator of the Estate of Inda Lewis (and on behalf of all the wrongful death beneficiaries of Inda Lewis) brought suit against both Dr. Skelton and various UMMC employees. The complaint specifically alleged that Dr. Skelton was not an employee of UMMC. The complaint also alleged that UMMC was vicariously liable for any and all negligent acts and/or omissions of employees who delivered negligent care to the patients. An amended complaint was filed naming six additional physician defendants. Dr. Skelton filed a motion for summary judgment. The District Court of Hinds County granted Dr. Skelton's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the judgment of the lower court. The court held, inter alia, that since the trial judge found that Dr. Skelton was an employee of UMMC, rather than an independent contractor, Dr. Skelton was cloaked with immunity. The court further found that Dr. Skelton did not waive any immunity by the mere fact that he had purchased his own liability insurance. The court noted that the primary issue was whether the trial court erred in finding that Dr. Skelton was an employee of UMMC and was acting within the course and scope of his employment during the course of the treatment of the patient. Both parties agreed that the function performed by Dr. Skelton was "supervisory." The court found that since the patient did not chose Dr. Skelton as her physician, and Dr. Skelton did not have a physician/client relationship with the patient, he was merely the attending physician on call; the day that the patient was admitted to the hospital, his role was to "supervise the overall care of the patient and all other admitted patients and to teach and advise residents and interns." The role of the faculty physician is to supervise the progress of residents and interns, provide the necessary training and to maintain a practical and educational environment. The court held the state has a compelling interest in maintaining such an educational environment as that provided by Dr. Skelton. Corey v. Skelton, 2003 WL 69496 So.2d--MS

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Providence, R.I. firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Reagan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievement as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, and Who's Who in America.
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Title Annotation:Medical Malpractice Cases
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Medical Law's Regan Report
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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