The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld a million-dollar jury verdict against Mobile Infirmary and one of its security guards.
The 2013 clash between security guard Shawn Scott Poff and hospital visitor Jennifer McIntyre led to a situation with some unusual twists: A hospital security video was used against the hospital in two related cases, and a city prosecutor took the stand to testify that if he’d known about the video, he’d never have pursued criminal charges.
In the video of the 2013 incident, McIntyre and her husband approach a desk manned by Poff. A verbal confrontation ensues, and McIntyre eventually is led away in handcuffs. The video is silent, and leaves unanswered any questions about the context of the incident and the words exchanged; McIntyre appears to remain calm while Poff’s posture and gestures indicate agitation.
According to court filings, McIntyre was charged with third-degree trespass. But attorney Jeff Deen argued that the video showed Poff’s allegations that McIntyre had provoked the confrontation were false, and she was acquitted.
When McIntyre later sued Poff and the Infirmary for assault & battery, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Derrick V. Williams testified that he’d have dropped the initial prosecution if he’d known about the video. In that case, a jury in Mobile County Circuit Court awarded McIntyre compensatory damages of $255,000 ($250,000 of which was for mental anguish) and punitive damages of $750,000.
At the time, Mark Nix, president and CEO of Infirmary Health, said the hospital’s leadership was "disappointed" in the verdict and was considering its options. Attorney Vince Kilborn, who’d represented McIntyre, said the verdict spoke to "a culture within the Mobile Infirmary’s so-called protective services department from the top down that I don’t know how to describe other than as disgraceful."
David Thomas Sells died three years ago at age 25, fatally injured by a freak misfire of lifesaving equipment at a Mobile hospital. The case recently ended with a $6 million settlement – and with allegations of an attempted cover-up, which the accused party’s attorney describes as bunk.
Court records show that shortly after the verdict, the Infirmary filed a motion arguing that McIntyre had provided insufficient evidence to support her claims and that ruling to that effect should be issued or a new trial ordered. Separately, attorneys for the hospital argued that the standard to justify the $250,000 award for mental anguish had not been met, and that that portion of the verdict should be set aside, or a new trial ordered.
In May 2016, Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith rejected those arguments, saying that "The Defendants’ conduct in this matter fits squarely within the definition of ‘reprehensible.’ … The jury’s $750,000 punitive damage award, while strong medicine, is appropriate and necessary in cases such as this."
The Infirmary subsequently filed an appeal. In a ruling filed May 19, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court verdict with no opinion. Six other justices concurred with the affirmation issued by Associate Justice Alisa Kelli Wise.
Kilborn said he felt that was "a little unusual, because you only require five votes." he said he thought it was the biggest such judgment that the court had ever upheld.
A request for comment Mobile Infirmary was pending.