Harper v. Gremmel

Decision Date29 August 1997
Citation703 So.2d 346
PartiesFreddie Wayne HARPER, as conservator and guardian of Freddie Lee Harper, v. Warren GREMMEL, M.D. 1960656.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Appeal from Madison Circuit Court (CV-94-1651); Joseph L. Battle, Judge.

Patrick M. Lamar of Siniard, Lamar & McKinney, P.C., Huntsville, for appellant.

Robert L. Williams of Spain & Gillon, L.L.C., Birmingham, for appellee.

MADDOX, Justice.

AFFIRMED. NO OPINION.

HOOPER, C.J., and SHORES, HOUSTON, BUTTS, and SEE, JJ., concur.

COOK, J., dissents.

COOK, Justice (dissenting).

I respectfully dissent. The plaintiff, Freddie Wayne Harper, appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of Dr. Warren Gremmel in an action against Dr. Gremmel alleging malpractice in the medical treatment of F.L. Harper, while the latter was a patient at Huntsville Hospital, a private institution.

According to undisputed evidence, F.L. Harper was admitted to Huntsville Hospital through its emergency room on August 26, 1992. At that time, he was suffering from "seizures and alcohol withdrawal." Throughout the night of August 27-28, Dr. Gremmel was the "on-call resident" at Huntsville Hospital, and he undertook to treat Harper.

At that time, Dr. Gremmel was a resident at the University of Alabama--Huntsville ("UAH"), a governmental entity. Through an "affiliation agreement" between UAH and Huntsville Hospital, Dr. Gremmel and other UAH personnel treated patients admitted to Huntsville Hospital. In the early morning hours, Harper leaped, or fell, from a window and suffered permanent injuries.

Freddie Wayne Harper, as F.L. Harper's conservator and guardian, sued Dr. Gremmel; Donna Payne, a registered nurse; and Huntsville Hospital, alleging medical malpractice. The trial court based its judgment in favor of Dr. Gremmel on the ground of qualified immunity. Dr. Gremmel was immune, the court concluded--notwithstanding the fact that the alleged malpractice occurred at the facility of a nongovernmental institution--because of Dr. Gremmel's affiliation with UAH. The Court affirms that judgment, without an opinion.

I have been unable to locate any controlling Alabama authority. Dr. Gremmel cites Smith v. Arnold, 564 So.2d 873 (Ala.1990). However, Smith involved claims against a "consulting psychiatrist to the [Thomasville Adult Adjustment] Center," which was a "minimum-security facility operated by the Department [of Mental Health and Mental Retardation]." 564 So.2d at 874. Also, I note that Barnes v. Dale, 530 So.2d 770 (Ala.1988), involved claims against employees of "Bryce Hospital--a mental health facility owned and operated by the State of Alabama." Id. at 771-72. Thus, the application--as a matter of law--of the doctrine of qualified immunity to physician services performed at private institutions would require a substantial extension of the holdings of Smith and Barnes. I disagree with this extension for two reasons.

First, I believe the facts in this case present a jury question as to whether Dr. Gremmel, in treating F.L. Harper, was essentially a "loaned servant" of Huntsville Hospital. Of the loaned servant doctrine this Court has said:

"In determining whether an employee has become a loaned servant the ultimate test is: Whose work was the employee doing and under whose control was he doing it [?] Dumas v. Dumas Brothers Manufacturing Co., 295 Ala. 370, 378, 330 So.2d 426, 432 (1976). It is not the actual exercise of control which is determinative but rather the reserved right to control the employee. United States Steel Corp. v. Mathews, 261 Ala. 120, 123, 73 So.2d 239, 242 (1954). Where the work of the employee is part of a large undertaking, mere suggestions as to details necessary for a cooperative must be distinguished from actual authoritative direction and control. 261 Ala. at 124, 73 So.2d at 242."

Coleman v. Steel City Crane Rentals, Inc., 475 So.2d 498, 500 (Ala.1985) (emphasis added), cert. denied sub nom., Illinois Cent. Gulf R.R. v. Coleman, 476 U.S. 1104, 106 S.Ct. 1946, 90 L.Ed.2d 356 (1986). "Even in the case of attorneys and physicians there may be the master and servant relation, as where a firm of...

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6 cases
  • Cranman v Maxwell
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • November 24, 1999
    ...and discretion' than those made by the state-employed physicians in Barnes [v. Dale, 530 So. 2d 770 (Ala. 1988)], Smith I, and Harper [v. Gremmel, 703 So. 2d 346 (Ala. 1997)], or the state-employed trainer in Lennon [v. Petersen, 624 So. 2d 171 (Ala. 1993)], and it follows that they are ent......
  • In re: Cranman v. Maxwell
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • November 22, 2000
    ...and discretion' than those made by the state-employed physicians in Barnes [v. Dale, 530 So. 2d 770 (Ala. 1988)], Smith I, and Harper [v. Gremmel, 703 So. 2d 346 (Ala. 1997)], or the state-employed trainer in Lennon [v. Petersen, 624 So. 2d 171 (Ala. 1993)], and it follows that they are ent......
  • Ex parte Cranman
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • June 16, 2000
    ...and discretion' than those made by the state-employed physicians in Barnes [v. Dale, 530 So.2d 770 (Ala.1988)], Smith I, and Harper [v. Gremmel, 703 So.2d 346 (Ala. 1997)], or the state-employed trainer in Lennon [v. Petersen, 624 So.2d 171 (Ala. 1993)], and it follows that they are entitle......
  • Wells v. Storey
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • November 24, 1999
    ...precedent concerning the doctrine of discretionary-function immunity, Wells asks this Court to overrule its decisions in Harper v. Gremmel, 703 So.2d 346 (Ala.1997);4 Smith v. King, 615 So.2d 69 (Ala.1993); Smith v. Arnold, 564 So.2d 873 (Ala.1990); and Barnes v. Dale, 530 So.2d 770 (Ala. 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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