Justia Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the court of appeals and the trial court concluding that the Health Care Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-101 to -122, did not apply to Plaintiffs' medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims, holding that Plaintiffs' claims fell within the definition of a "healthcare liability action" under the Act.Plaintiffs sued a doctor and his medical practice alleging medical battery and intentional misrepresentation. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiffs did not comply with the Act's pre-suit notice and filing requirements. The trial court agreed, ruling that Defendants' misrepresentations were made before they rendered any health care services and therefore did not relate to the provision of health care services. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act applied to Plaintiffs' claims. View "Cooper v. Mandy" on Justia Law

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In this healthcare liability action filed by a surgery patient and her husband, the Supreme Court reversed the holding of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court applying the statutory cap to Plaintiffs separately, holding that the language to Tenn. Code Ann. 29-39-102 allowed both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages.The patient brought this negligence action against defendant physicians for noneconomic damages, arguing that a portion of a Gelport device was unintentionally left in her body after surgery. The patient's husband claimed damages for loss of consortium in the same action. The jury awarded the patient $4 million in damages and awarded her spouse $500,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The trial court initially entered a judgment of $750,000 in the aggregate in favor of both Plaintiffs but subsequently granted Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend. The court then applied the statutory cap to each plaintiff separately, awarding the patient $750,000 and her husband $500,000. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 29-389-102 creates a single cap on noneconomic damages that includes those awarded to the injured spouse, as well as those damages award to the other spouse for a derivative loss of consortium claim. View "Yebuah v. Center For Urological Treatment, PLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiffs' health care liability action as time-barred, holding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations due to their noncompliance with Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121 (section 121).Before Plaintiffs filed a health care liability action Plaintiffs attempted to comply with section 121 by notifying Defendants of their intent to file suit. Plaintiffs subsequently voluntarily nonsuited their lawsuit. Less than one year later, Plaintiffs filed a second lawsuit alleging the same health care liability claims against Defendants. To establish the timeliness of the second lawsuit, Plaintiffs relied on the savings statute. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs' pre-suit notice was not substantially compliant with section 121, and therefore, Plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations so that their first lawsuit was not timely filed. Therefore, Defendants argued, Plaintiffs' second lawsuit was untimely. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, holding (1) Plaintiffs failed to establish either substantial compliance or extraordinary cause to excuse their noncompliance with section 121; and (2) therefore, Plaintiffs could not rely on the one-year savings statute to establish the timeliness of their lawsuit. View "Martin v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held a doctor who was permitted to practice medicine in Tennessee under a statutory licensure exemption but was not licensed to practice in Tennessee or a contiguous state during the year before the date of the alleged injury or wrongful conduct does not meet the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-115(b) to testify as an expert witness in a health care liability action.Plaintiff brought this action against Thomas Killian, M.D. and Frist Cardiology, PLLC (collectively, Defendants) alleging that Defendants' negligent conduct caused her husband's death. Plaintiff named Dr. Jason A. Rytlewski as the expert witness who would testify that Dr. Killian deviated from the applicable standard of care in his treatment of the decedent. Defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that Dr. Rytlewski did not have a medical license in Tennessee or a contiguous state the year before the decedent's heart procedure, as required by section 29-26-115(b). In response, Plaintiff explained that Dr. Rytlewski had been granted an exemption allowing him to practice medicine without a medical license. The trial court allowed Dr. Rytlewski's testimony. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Dr. Rytlewski was not qualified to testify as an expert as an expert witness in this health care liability case. View "Young v. Frist Cardiology, PLLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order entered by the trial court in this case, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(f) is unconstitutional as enacted to the limited extent that it divests trial courts of their inherent discretion over discovery and that the statute can be elided to make it permissive and not mandatory upon trial courts.Plaintiff filed this healthcare liability wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent alleging that Defendant's negligent treatment of the decedent resulted in the decedent's death. During discovery, Defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order pursuant to section 29-26-121(f), which allows defense counsel to conduct ex parte interviews with patients' non-party treating healthcare providers in a healthcare liability lawsuit. In response, Plaintiff argued that the statute is unconstitutional because it deprives the trial court of its inherent authority over court proceedings. The trial court entered a written qualified protective order allowing the interviews. The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order, holding (1) section 29-26-121(f) impermissibly intrudes on the authority of the judiciary over procedural matters; and (2) the unconstitutional portion of the statute may be elided, and the statute as elided is constitutional. View "Willeford v. Klepper" on Justia Law

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In this healthcare liability action, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court denying Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend after concluding that Plaintiffs' sole expert witness was not competent to testify on causation and granting summary judgment to Defendant, holding that the trial court's decision was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions of the motion to alter or amend.In Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend Plaintiffs proffered causation testimony from a new expert witness. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court abused its discretion. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that the trial court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend was an abuse of discretion because the trial court's decision was within the parameters of the court's sound discretion. View "Harmon v. Hickman Community Healthcare Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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A potential plaintiff who provides pre-suit notice to one potential defendant is not required under Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) to provide the single potential defendant with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization.Plaintiff sent a pre-suit notice of her healthcare liability claim to a single healthcare provider and included a medical authorization. Dr. Radwan Khuri moved to dismiss the case, asserting that Plaintiff had failed to povide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization under section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). The trial court granted Dr. Khuri’s motion and dismissed the complaint, concluding that the authorization provided by Plaintiff did not substantially comply with HIPAA or with the requirements of section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) and that Defendant was prejudiced by Plaintiff’s deficient authorization. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization was not required in this case because Plaintiff’s pre-suit notice was sent to a single provider. View "Bray v. Khuri" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed this action against Defendant, a licensed clinical social worker, alleging negligence, negligence per se, and intentional infliction of emotional distress for providing counseling services for their minor daughter without their consent. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on Plaintiffs’ failure to comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). Plaintiffs responded that their claims were not subject to the THCLA’s procedural requirements because their claims sounded in ordinary negligence. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the THCLA encompassed Plaintiffs’ claims because they related to the provision of “health care services” by a “health care provider.” The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s order and remanded, concluding that the trial court erred by failing to apply the Supreme Court’s analysis in determining if Plaintiffs’ claims sounded in ordinary negligence or health care liability. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding (1) the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, which amended the THCLA, statutorily abrogated the Court’s decision in Estate of French; and (2) Plaintiff’s complaint was subject to the THCLA, which required them to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith. View "Ellithorpe v. Weismark" on Justia Law

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In this health care liability case Plaintiff sent Defendants pre-suit notice of the claim via FedEx. Defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging that Plaintiff failed to comply with the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) by not using certified mail, return receipt requested, through the U.S. Postal Service. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that strict compliance with the manner and proof of service requirements of sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) was required. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the manner and proof of service prescribed by sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) may be achieved through substantial compliance; (2) delivery of pre-suit notice by private commercial carrier and filing of proof with the complaint constitutes substantial compliance with sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4); and (3) because Defendants received notice and were not prejudiced by the manner of service, Plaintiff’s provision of pre-suit notice to Defendants through the use of FedEx and filing of proof with the complaint constituted substantial compliance with the manner and proof of service requirements of the pre-suit notice statute. Remanded. View "Arden v. Kozawa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice action against Defendants. The trial court granted Plaintiff’s request to voluntarily dismiss the action without prejudice after Defendants moved to dismiss the action on the grounds that the certificate of good faith was noncompliant with the requirement of Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-122(d)(4) that a certificate of good faith filed in a medical malpractice action disclose the number of prior violations of the statute by the executing party. Defendants appealed, arguing that the action should have been dismissed with prejudice because Plaintiff did not disclose that there were no prior violations by Plaintiff’s counsel. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 29-26-122(d)(4)’s requirement does not also require disclosure of the absence of any prior violations of the statute. View "Davis ex rel. Davis v. Ibach" on Justia Law