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Monday, September 18, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Trial Court's Denial of Summary Judgment and Jury Verdict Because Surviving Spouse's Initial Pro Se Filing of Wrongful Death Action Was Not Void Ab Initio

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its opinion in Beard v. Branson, No. M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 30, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
We granted permission for this appeal to determine whether a surviving spouse who files a wrongful death lawsuit is acting as a legal representative of the decedent and whether a wrongful death lawsuit filed pro se by the surviving spouse is void ab initio based on the spouse’s pro se status. In this case, the decedent’s surviving spouse filed a pro se wrongful death health care liability lawsuit shortly before the one-year statute of limitations lapsed. After expiration of the limitations period, the spouse retained an attorney and filed an amended complaint. In the ensuing discovery, the defendants learned that the decedent had two daughters, both of whom were statutory beneficiaries in the wrongful death action. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment. They argued that the spouse’s initial pro se complaint was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and the other statutory beneficiaries and that it was, therefore, void ab initio; thus, the filing of the amended complaint could not relate back to the date of the initial complaint, and the lawsuit was time-barred. The trial court denied the summary judgment motions and permitted the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial pro se complaint. It then conducted a jury trial; the jury found both defendants liable and awarded damages. The defendant hospital appealed the denial of summary judgment. Adopting the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals reversed. The plaintiff now appeals. Under the plain language of Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, the decedent’s right of action “pass[es] to” the surviving spouse upon the decedent’s death, and the surviving spouse asserts the right of action for the benefit of himself and other beneficiaries. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(a) (2009 & Supp. 2016). Consequently, we hold that the surviving spouse did not file the initial pro se complaint as the legal representative of either the decedent or the decedent’s estate. As we construe our wrongful death statutes, in filing the pro se complaint, the surviving spouse was acting to a large extent on his own behalf and for his own benefit pursuant to his right of self-representation. Under the facts of this case, we hold that the initial pro se complaint was not void ab initio, it served to toll the statute of limitations, and the trial court did not err in allowing the filing of the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, affirm the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the other issues that were properly raised on appeal but not addressed.
Here is link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/beardlindaopn.pdf

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal Overturned on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Clary v. Miller, No. M2016-00794-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
This appeal concerns the dismissal of a health care liability action for noncompliance with the Health Care Liability Act, specifically Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121 (Supp. 2016). Before filing this action, the plaintiff gave timely written pre-suit notice of her health care liability claim, including the required medical authorizations, to all potential defendants. But when she filed her complaint, the plaintiff failed to provide copies of the medical authorizations as required by statute. Both defendants filed motions to dismiss based on the missing documents. The trial court determined that the plaintiff had substantially complied with the statute and that the defendants were not prejudiced by the omission. Even so, the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice after concluding that strict compliance with the statute was required when the defendant was a governmental entity. Upon review, we conclude that substantial compliance with the documentation requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(b) is sufficient even when the defendant is a governmental entity. Thus, we reverse the dismissal of the complaint.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/clary.sandra.opn_.pdf

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Admission of Previously Undisclosed Defense Expert Testimony Overturned on Appeal and New Trial Granted

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Collier v. Roussis, No. E2016-01591-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
Chayce Collier, a minor, by and through his natural parent and next friend, Kendall Collier (“Plaintiff”) sued Periclis Roussis, M.D. and Fort Sanders Perinatal Center and Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center (“the Hospital”) for injuries allegedly suffered by Plaintiff when his mother had an allergic reaction during labor. After trial before a jury, the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) entered judgment on the jury’s verdict that Dr. Roussis was not negligent and that the nurses employed by the Hospital were not negligent and dismissed the suit. Plaintiff appeals to this Court raising several issues including whether the Trial Court erred in allowing the admission of previously undisclosed testimony from the nurses and a defense expert witness, among other things. We find and hold that the Trial Court erred in allowing the previously undisclosed testimony of the nurses and the defense expert witness. We, therefore, vacate the Trial Court’s judgment and remand this case for a new trial.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/collier_v_roussis_m.d._et_al..pdf

NOTE: This opinion covers more than just undisclosed expert-witness testimony: it covers, inter alia, expert testimony in a health care liability action in general along with improper defense closing argument.  This is a must-read opinion for any lawyer who handles health care liability actions in Tennessee or just tries cases in general.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal Overturned on Appeal in Accord with Recent Tennessee Supreme Court Precedent

This is a follow-up post to my Jul. 5, 2017 post (http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2017/07/new-health-care-liability-action.html).  The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Grizzle v. Park West Medical Center, No. E2016-01068-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 25, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
The plaintiff initiated this health care liability action on January 25, 2016. The defendant medical provider filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the plaintiff had failed to attach the documentation required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(b) to demonstrate that proper pre-suit notice had been transmitted. The defendant also asserted that the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed for failure to substantially comply with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) regarding a medical authorization compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”). While noting that the plaintiff had substantially complied with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(4) and (b), the trial court found that the medical authorization forwarded by the plaintiff was incomplete and failed to comply with HIPAA’s release requirements. The trial court therefore dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff has timely appealed. We affirm the trial court’s determination that the plaintiff substantially complied with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(4) and (b). We reverse, however, the trial court’s determination that the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed for failure to substantially comply with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26- 121(a)(2)(E).
Here is a link to the slip opinion, to wit:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/betty_grizzle_v._parkwest_medical_center.pdf

NOTE: The Court of Appeals correctly applied the law from Bray v. Khuri to overturn the dismissal below under Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121(a)(2)(E).  It did, however, affirm the trial court's determination that Plaintiff had substantially complied with Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121(a)(4), (b).  This is a correct decision that is consistent with Tennessee law.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Tennessee Supreme Court Holds That a HIPAA-compliant Medical Authorization Is Not Required to Be Sent When Only One Defendant Is Being Sent Presuit Notice of a Potential Claim

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its opinion today in Bray v. Khuri, No. W2015-00397-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Jul. 5, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) requires a person who asserts a potential claim for healthcare liability to include with pre-suit notice a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization permitting the healthcare provider who receives the notice to obtain complete medical records “from each other provider being sent the notice.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). Here, the plaintiff sent pre-suit notice of her claim to a single healthcare provider and included a medical authorization. After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendant healthcare provider moved to dismiss, asserting the plaintiff had failed to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization. The trial court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that a prospective plaintiff who provides pre-suit notice to one potential defendant is not required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) to provide the single potential defendant with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization. We reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings. 
(Footnote omitted.)

Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/braydeborah.opn_.pdf

NOTE: This decision is correct and a commonsense construction of Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121(a)(2)(E).  My hat's off to the Tennessee Supreme Court for this decision.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Grant of Summary Judgment to Defense Upheld on Appeal Due to Lack of Sufficient Expert Testimony

The Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, released its opinion Graham v. Family Cancer Center, PLLC, No. W2016-00859-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jun. 5, 2017).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
This is a medical malpractice action.  The plaintiffs timely filed suit against the defendants concerning the failure to timely diagnose the husband’s prostate cancer. After voluntarily dismissing the initial suit, the plaintiffs provided pre-suit notice before filing a second suit pursuant to the saving statute. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked sufficient expert testimony to establish their claim. The court agreed and granted summary judgment. We affirm.
(Footnote omitted.)

Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/grahamsamuelopn.pdf

New NIED Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Claim Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, issued its opinion in Henderson v. Vanderbilt University, No. M2016-01876-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2017).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the defendant hospital on the ground hat the plaintiffs could not establish that they witnessed or perceived an injury-producing event for purposes of their negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. We hold that the alleged failure of the defendant hospital to provide care to the plaintiffs’ daughter, despite repeated assurances from the hospital that it would occur, constitutes an injury-producing event that was witnessed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ negligent infliction of emotional distress claims on this basis.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


Here is a link to Judge Gibson's dissent:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/henderson.rodney.diss_.opn_.pdf

NOTE: The majority opinion does a good job of outlining the current state of NIED claims in Tennessee.


New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Mother's Claim as Being Time-barred Upheld on Appeal; Trial Court's Dismissal of Child's Claim Is Reversed, However, Due to Extension of Statute of Repose via Proper Presuit Notification to Defendants of That Claim

The Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, issued its opinion in Woodruff v. Walker, No. W2016-01895-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 26, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
The plaintiffs, a mother and her child, filed this health care liability action in September 2015. The complaint alleged that both plaintiffs suffered permanent injuries resulting from the defendant health care providers’ negligent care during the child’s birth in June 2012. The defendants moved to dismiss the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(1) and to dismiss the claims of both plaintiffs based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(3). With regard to the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs argued that the mother’s claims were timely filed because the discovery rule delayed the accrual of her claims until March 2015 and because she had been “adjudicated incompetent” within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 such that the limitations period was tolled as to her claims. With regard to the statute of repose, the plaintiffs argued that their claims were timely filed because they were entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extends the three-year statute of repose by 120 days when sufficient pre-suit notice is given. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that neither the discovery rule nor Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 applied to the mother’s claims and that her claims were therefore filed after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. Additionally, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient presuit notice because the medical authorizations included in their pre-suit notice did not permit the defendants to obtain their complete medical records. Specifically, the trial court found the authorizations insufficient because they did not permit the defendants to obtain relevant medical records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery. The trial court therefore concluded that the plaintiffs were not entitled to rely on the 120-day extended filing period and their claims were filed after expiration of the three-year statute of repose. The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims, and the plaintiffs appealed. Having reviewed the record submitted on appeal, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. We further hold, however, that the trial court erred in dismissing the child’s claims based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose. Records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery were the mother’s medical records, and the child could not have unilaterally authorized their release. As such, his failure to do so did not render the medical authorizations provided with his pre-suit notice insufficient. The defendants have not asserted any other deficiencies in the child’s pre-suit notice. Because the child provided sufficient pre-suit notice, he was entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extended the filing period by 120 days. The child’s claims were therefore timely filed prior to expiration of the extended statute of repose in October 2015. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Here is a link to the opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/woodruffjoshlinopn.pdf

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Twenty-five Years of Modified Comparative Fault in Tennessee

On May 4, 1992, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted a system of modified comparative fault in McIntyre v. Balentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992).  The petition for rehearing was denied June 1, 1992. Accordingly, we are in the midst of the twenty-fifth anniversary of McIntyre.

The significance of that case cannot be understated.  Its affect upon Tennessee tort law remains strong even today.  It is worth rereading on occasion. As such, here is a link to that case: