Volume 35:1 (Summer 2011)

Health Care Law—The Alabama Supreme Court’s Expansion of Sovereign Immunity for State Supported Hospitals—Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Davis, No. 1090084, 2011 WL 118268, at *13-14 (Ala. Jan. 14, 2011).


Philip A. Sellers II


Introduction: The doctrine of sovereign immunity is derived from “the ancient maxim that the king can do no wrong.” Sovereign Immunity has historically prevented parties from suing the government without its consent. In general, states have extended sovereign immunity for tort liability to hospitals operating as state agencies, except where statutes specify otherwise. Several states bar plaintiffs from bringing negligence actions against such hospitals in state courts. Instead, these states allow injured claimants to avail themselves of an alternative statutory claims process. Other states have extended immunity to hospitals owned or operated by local governments. Alternatively, some states have denied immunity to such hospitals. In addition, a few states have abolished sovereign immunity altogether, instead enacting damages caps. Many states have extended sovereign immunity to teaching hospitals operating in conjunction with medical schools. In Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Davis, the Alabama Supreme Court extended sovereign immunity to a hospital, Baptist Health, based upon its affiliation with the University of Alabama Board of Trustees (Board). Under the affiliation agreement, the Board created a Health Care Authority that acquired the assets of Baptist Health. The court reasoned that the affiliation agreement rendered Baptist Health a state agency for the purpose of sovereign immunity. As such, the court voided a $3.2 million verdict against Baptist Health. Consequently, the court’s holding expands the scope of sovereign immunity of health care facilities in Alabama. The decision recognizes a new means by which health care facilities may shield themselves from negligence liability.