State Supreme Court will hear medical malpractice case

The Associated Press
http://www.clarionledger.com

The Mississippi Supreme Court has agreed to determine whether faculty physicians at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are protected from lawsuits involving their private patients.

In a 5-2 order released Thursday, the Supreme Court said it would hear the appeal from the family of Merkell M. Fox, who sued Dr. W. Mark Meeks, a UMC physician, in 1995 after Fox died while in Meeks’ care. It is the second time the lawsuit has been before the Supreme Court.

The case has a long procedural history.

A Hinds County judge initially ruled in 1998 that Meeks was an employee of UMC even while seeing private patients and therefore was immune from the lawsuit. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2000.

In 2004, a trial judge ruled Meeks was not an employee of UMC and not protected from lawsuits under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. MTCA controls all lawsuits for negligence brought against the state or local governments and public officials. The law puts limits on damages that can be sought against a governmental body.

The state Court of Appeals in 2004 reversed the trial judge, siding with Meeks and dismissing the lawsuit.

The Fox family appealed again to the Supreme Court. The Appeals Court found that the protections of the MTCA extended to Meeks.

According to the court records, UMC’s contracts with its teaching faculty allows them to see private patients to supplement their income.

Meeks claimed he treated Fox in a clinic provided by UMC. He said the clinics provided a patient base for eventual teaching cases following the patient’s admission to the hospital. Meeks said the function was a vital part of a working teaching hospital.

The Fox family claimed Meeks was a private contractor and was seeing patients outside his duties as a teaching physician.

The Appeals Court said part of Meeks employment required him to participant in the clinic.
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