Meredith v. Buchman, 4:99CV00418WRW.

Decision Date20 June 2000
Docket NumberNo. 4:99CV00418WRW.,4:99CV00418WRW.
Citation101 F.Supp.2d 764
PartiesRobert F. MEREDITH III and Carylyn Hancock, Co-Administrators of the Estates of Robert F. Meredith IV, Deceased, Plaintiffs. v. J.K. BUCHMAN, M.D.; J.K. Buchman, M.D., P.A.; and HCA Health Services of Midwest, Inc. d/b/a Columbia Doctors Hospital, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas

Winslow Drummond, McMath, Vehik, Drummond, Harrison & Ledbetter, P.A., Little Rock, AR, John P. Zelbst, Tommy L. Sims, John P. Zelbst Law Firm, Lawton, OK, for plaintiffs.

William M. Griffin, III, Friday, Eldredge & Clark, Little Rock, AR, for JK Buchman, M.D., defendant.

Mike Huckabay, Timothy L. Boone, Huckabay, Munson, Rowlett & Tilley, P.A., Little Rock, AR, for HCA Health Services of Midwest, Inc., defendant.


WILSON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs filed this action on behalf of the estate of Robert F. Meredith IV, claiming damages for injuries caused by medical treatment which resulted in the death of Robert F. Meredith IV, on April 30, 1998. In addition to the decedent's economic losses and conscious pain and suffering, Plaintiffs seek damages for mental anguish on behalf of his beneficiaries. The parties agree, for the limited purpose of the motions considered here, that Meredith's death was caused by medical malpractice.

Defendants have filed motions for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 22 & 25) arguing that this action is controlled by the Medical Malpractice Act1 which provides damages only for the injured person, not the beneficiaries. Plaintiffs have responded (Doc. No. 30), and Defendants J.K. Buchman, M.D., and J.K. Buchman, M.D., P.A, have replied. The Court heard oral arguments and the motions are ready for decision. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are DENIED.

I. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir.1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial — whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned that summary judgment should be invoked carefully so that no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues. Inland Oil & Transp. Co. v. United States, 600 F.2d 725 (8th Cir.1979). The Eighth Circuit set out the burden of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. MK-Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the moving party for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., `[to] point out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339. (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-274 (8th Cir.1988) (citations omitted) (brackets in original)). Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

II. Analysis

"At common law, death of the injured person abated any cause of action that he might have maintained." HENRY WOODS & BETH DEERE, COMPARATIVE FAULT 3D. § 9:1 (1996). Survival Acts were enacted to cure this deficiency. Arkansas' Survival Statute, codified at Ark.Code Ann. § 16-62-101 (enacted first in 1838), allows the administrator of the estate of the deceased to recover, on behalf of the estate, expenses suffered by the decedent prior to his death such as medical expenses, lost earnings and conscious pain and suffering. The administrator may also recover for funeral expenses.

Common law also "denied the spouse and next of kin any right to recover for their own loss." HENRY WOODS & BETH DEERE, COMPARATIVE FAULT 3D, § 9:1 (1996). "Lord Campbell's Act was passed in 1846 to alleviate this harsh rule." Id. Arkansas Wrongful Death Statute, codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 16-62-102 (enacted first in 1883), provides that statutory beneficiaries of the decedent can recover for economic and non-economic losses they suffered due to the decedent's death.

Thus, under current Arkansas law, when a person's death is caused by the negligence of another, two causes of action arise. See Matthews v. Travelers Indemnity Ins. Co., 245 Ark. 247, 249, 432 S.W.2d 485, 487 (1968).2 First, there is a cause of action for the estate under the survival statute, and, second, there is a cause of action for the statutory beneficiaries under the wrongful death statute.

In 1979, the Arkansas General Assembly passed the Medical Malpractice Act, codified at Ark.Code Ann. § 16-114-201, et seq., which states that it applies to "all causes of action for medical injury accruing after April 2, 1979, and, as to such causes of action, shall supersede any inconsistent provision of law." Ark.Code Ann. § 16-114-202.

The question presented by the motions for partial summary judgment is whether the Medical Malpractice Act has superseded the damages provision of the Wrongful Death Act in cases where death is caused by medical negligence. To accept Defendants' interpretation of the Medical Malpractice Act would be to revert to pre-1846 — before Lord Campbell's Act was passed.

This is a diversity action. The Eighth Circuit has stated the prevailing rule that a federal court, sitting in diversity, "must follow state law as announced by the highest court in the state.... When the highest court in a state has not declared its law on an issue, we are `to ascertain from all the available data what the state law is and apply it.'" Reliance Nat'l Indem. Co. v. Jennings, 189 F.3d 689, 694 (8th Cir.1999) (citing West v. American Tel & Tel Co, 311 U.S. 223, 237, 61 S.Ct. 179, 85 L.Ed. 139 (1940)). See, e.g., Farr v. Farm Bureau, Ins. Co., 61 F.3d 677, 679 (8th Cir.1995) (holding that in determining what the Nebraska Supreme Court would probably hold, it could consider "relevant state precedent, analogous decisions, considered dicta, scholarly works and any other reliable data.").

The Arkansas Supreme Court has not directly considered the question presented here. Recently, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge David B. Bogard addressed the issue in Moore v. Beverly Enter. — Arkansas, Inc., Pulaski County Circuit Court Case No. CV 99-2178, May 5, 2000.3 In his opinion, attached as Exhibit A, Judge Bogard held that "the language of the Medical Malpractice Act limits recovery for mental anguish and economic losses to the `injured person', not that person's beneficiaries." See id. State circuit opinions, however, are not controlling precedent for this Court.4 Rather, it is this Court's duty to determine what the Arkansas Supreme Court "`would probably hold were it to decide the issue[s]' raised in [this case]." See Warford v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 69 F.3d 860, 862 (1995).

Defendants cite a case in which the Arkansas Supreme Court held that "any medical injury, even one resulting in the death of a person, is governed by the Medical Malpractice Act and not the wrongful-death statute." Pastchol v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 326 Ark. 140, 144, 929 S.W.2d 713, 715 (1996). Pastchol, however, did not hold that the Medical Malpractice Act completely superseded the Wrongful Death Act. It merely held that where there is a conflict between the two statutes — as there is with the statute of limitations — the Medical Malpractice Act trumps. See id. This is in accord with the language of the Medical Malpractice Act which provides that it "shall supersede any inconsistent provision of law." Ark.Code Ann. § 16-114-202 (emphasis added). It does not purport to supersede laws that are consistent.

Is the Wrongful Death Act inconsistent with the Medical Malpractice Act? "The basic rule of statutory construction to which all other interpretive guides must defer is to give effect to the legislative intent underlying the statute." Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Arkansas Pub. Serv. Comm'n., 69 Ark.App. 323, 13 S.W.3d 197, 200 (2000). "As far as practicable, we must give effect to every part of the statute, reconciling the different provisions to make them consistent, harmonious, and sensible." McGee v. Armorel Pub. Sch., 309 Ark. 59, 63, 827 S.W.2d 137, 139 (1992).

Defendants' argument and Judge Bogard's opinion focus on the language of the Medical Malpractice Act, Ark.Code Ann. § 16-114-208, which provides:

(a)(1) The damages awarded may include compensation for actual economic losses recognized by law suffered by the injured person by reason of medical injury including, but not limited to, the cost of reasonable and necessary medical services, rehabilitation services, custodial care, loss of services, and loss of earnings or earning capacity;

(2) The damages awarded may include compensation for pain and suffering and other noneconomic loss recognized by law;

(b) In the event of a verdict for the plaintiff, the finder of fact shall separately state its awards for both past and future economic losses and for both...

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5 cases
  • Davis v. Parham
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • 12 Mayo 2005
    ...current Arkansas law, when a person's death is caused by the negligence of another, two causes of action arise. Meredith v. Buchman, 101 F.Supp.2d 764, 766 (E.D.Ark.2000) (citing Matthews v. Travelers Indemnity Ins. Co., 245 Ark. 247, 249, 432 S.W.2d 485, 487 (1968)). First, there is a caus......
  • Miller v. Centerpoint Energy, CA 06-668.
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • 28 Febrero 2007
    ...(2) a cause of action for the statutory beneficiaries under the wrongful-death statute, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-62-102. Meredith v. Buchman, 101 F.Supp.2d 764 (E.D.Ark.2000)(citing Matthews v. Travelers Indem. Ins. Co., 245 Ark. 247, 432 S.W.2d 485 (1968)). "An action for wrongful death brought......
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas
    • 19 Octubre 2007
    ...Act which has been held to supercede only "any inconsistent provision of law." See Judge Bill Wilson's decision in Meredith v. Buchman, 101 F.Supp.2d 764 (E.D.Ark.2000) and Judge Franklin Waters' decision in Foncannon v. Phico Insurance Co., 104 F.Supp.2d 1091 The Court agrees with Judge Wi......
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Arkansas
    • 21 Junio 2000
    ...damage provisions of the Medical Malpractice Act and the Wrongful Death Act were consistent and complementary. Meredith, et al. v. Buchman, et al., 101 F.Supp.2d 764 (2000). We agree with the conclusions of Judge Wilson contained in his lucid and well-reasoned ...
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