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Judge dismisses hospital suit against jail authority for unpaid bills

May 18, 2019

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Regional Jail Authority won’t have to pay a more than $160,000 bill to Cabell Huntington Hospital, a Kanawha circuit judge ruled Friday.

Judge Joanna Tabit dismissed a lawsuit against the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority after attorneys for the authority said that it qualified for immunity under the West Virginia Constitution.

The hospital sought to have the authority pay a total of $168,985.65 in medical bills for Arthur L. Edens, who was an inmate at South Central Regional Jail when he suffered serious injuries at the jail and spent 19 days in Cabell Huntington Hospital in January and February 2016.

In its motion to have the case dismissed, Kelli Talbot, West Virginia senior deputy attorney general, said the authority itself is an agency of the state, which means it cannot be subject to a lawsuit under Article VI, Section 35 of the state constitution.

The article of the constitution says the State of West Virginia can’t be sued, but any subdivision, municipality, agent or employee of the state can be sued.

Talbot didn’t argue whether the hospital had a viable claim to seek payment for the bill, but she argued the more appropriate place to seek the claim would be the Legislative Claims Commission.

Representing the hospital, Ralph Nagy, with the Huntington firm Bailes, Craig & Yon, said the West Virginia Supreme Court has held that some state entities are not entitled to that immunity, giving an example in which the West Virginia Turnpike Commission was ordered to pay for damages using money collected in a toll booth because the commission was a “quasi-public” entity, meaning it collected money via tax revenue as well as other means, including tolls and bonds.

Likewise, Nagy said, the Jail Authority was a quasi-public entity.

Edens, of Charleston, was arrested in Kanawha County on Jan. 27, 2016, according to records in the Kanawha County Magistrate Clerk’s Office. He was charged with misdemeanor obstruction and felony burglary, according to court records.

Those charges later were dismissed.

Edens, 61 at the time, was an inmate at South Central Regional Jail on Jan. 28 when he “sustained serious injuries” and required “significant medical care,” according to the lawsuit. Edens was taken to the emergency room at Cabell Huntington, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not indicate what kind of injuries Edens suffered, the circumstances that caused his injuries or why he was taken to Cabell Huntington instead of any hospitals closer to the jail in Kanawha County.

The lawsuit indicates Edens was a patient at Cabell Huntington from Jan. 28, 2016, to Feb. 15, 2016.

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