Dulin v. Northeast Alabama Regional Med. Ctr.Annotate this Case
Alanna Nail, Paul Watson, and Gennie Farragher, all registered nurses, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Calhoun Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the summary-judgment motion they filed, which raised a statute-of-limitations defense. George Dulin was admitted to the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center ("the Center") in May 2005 for treatment of "crush injuries to his chest." Dulin's tracheostomy tube allegedly became dislodged during a bath administered by the nursing staff, resulting in the loss of oxygen for an undetermined period. He allegedly suffered brain damage as the result of oxygen deprivation. One month later, Vivian Dulin, George's wife, obtained and reviewed the hospital records. Included in the records was a "Cardiopulmonary Pulmonary Arrest Flow Sheet," purported to identify, by handwritten entries, eight members of a "Code Team" involved in the incident. The Dulins commenced a medical malpractice action against the Center and 17 fictitiously named defendants. Subsequently, Nail, Watson, and Farragher moved for a summary judgment on the ground that the amended complaint, which purported to substitute their names for certain fictitiously named defendants, was filed more than two years after the alleged incident on June 3, 2005, and did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint, because, they argued, the Dulins failed to exercise "due diligence" in ascertaining the nurses' identities. The trial court denied the nurses' motion, and they filed this petition. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that "[d]ue diligence means ordinary, rather than extraordinary, diligence." Under the circumstances of this case, including (1) the Dulins' prompt acquisition of the medical records, (2) the state of the names of the nurses in the room with George Dulin in his medical records, and (3) the promptness of discovery and of the substitution, the Court could not say, as a matter of law, that the Dulins failed to exercise due diligence in substituting the nurses for the fictitiously named defendants. The Court denied the nurses' application for a writ of mandamus.