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Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion: Court Holds Child Support Arrearage Will Not Disqualify Surviving Spouse from Pursuing a Claim for His or Her Deceased Spouse's Wrongful Death or Sharing in the Proceeds from Such a Claim

The Tennessee Supreme Court just issued its opinion in Spires v. Simpson, No. E2015-00697-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Dec. 27, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
We granted permission to appeal in this case to clarify when two Tennessee statutes would apply to preclude a parent who owes child support arrearages from recovering proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the plaintiff and the decedent were married and had one child; the plaintiff abandoned the decedent and their son soon after the child was born. The plaintiff and the decedent never divorced. The decedent spouse died unexpectedly, and soon afterward the plaintiff surviving spouse filed this wrongful death action. At the time, the plaintiff surviving spouse owed child support arrearages for four other children unrelated to the decedent. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff surviving spouse from the wrongful death lawsuit based on a provision in Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-5-107(b) (2009 & Supp. 2017), and a similar provision in Tennessee’s intestate succession statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated section 31-2-105(b) (2015 & Supp. 2017). It held that these two statutes disqualified the plaintiff from filing the wrongful death action or recovering the proceeds from it because he never provided financial support for his child with the decedent spouse and because he had child support arrearages for his four children unrelated to the decedent spouse. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the two statutes did not bar the plaintiff from commencing the lawsuit for the wrongful death of his spouse, but it also held that they precluded him from recovering proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit until his outstanding child support arrearages were satisfied. Consequently, the Court of Appeals ordered that the plaintiff’s recovery from the wrongful death action be paid toward satisfaction of his child support arrearages for his four children who were unrelated to the decedent spouse. On appeal, we hold that the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) apply only when (1) the “parent” who seeks to recover in the wrongful death lawsuit is a parent of the decedent child, and (2) that parent’s child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Therefore, neither statute is applicable under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the decisions of the lower courts are reversed and vacated insofar as they applied those two statutes to this case. We affirm the Court of Appeals’ holding that newly enacted wrongful death statutes regarding a surviving spouse’s waiver based on abandonment of a decedent spouse may not be applied retroactively. 
Here is a link to the opinion: 


NOTE: This is a very good opinion that delves into Tennessee's wrongful-death statutes and statutory construction.  This is a very good read for the Tennessee practitioner if she or he handles wrongful death cases.  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion: Rule 60 Motions Analyzed in Detail

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its opinion yesterday in Hussey v. Woods, No. W2014-01235-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 allows a trial court to set aside a final judgment under certain circumstances, including when the judgment is void or “for any other reason justifying relief.” Here, a decedent’s mother, in her capacity as her unmarried son’s next of kin, filed a lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful death. The case was settled and dismissed. Nearly twenty months later, the decedent’s alleged minor child filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the order of dismissal and to be substituted as the plaintiff. The motion asserted that the child was the decedent’s next of kin and the proper party to pursue the wrongful death claim, based on the decedent’s execution of an acknowledgment of paternity and a Mississippi trial court order for support. The trial court denied the motion, finding it was not timely filed. The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling, holding that the Rule 60.02 motion was not ripe for adjudication until the trial court conclusively established the child’s paternity. We find the Court of Appeals erred by focusing on issues surrounding the child’s paternity rather than reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the Rule 60.02 motion. We hold that the trial court properly denied relief under Rule 60.02. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion does a very good job of explaining the intricacies of motions seeking relief under Rule 60 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.  It's a must-read opinion.


New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion: Mary Carter Agreements, Remittitur & Causation

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in Borne v. Celdaon Trucking Services, Inc., No. W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Oct. 20, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
This appeal arises out of sequential rear-end collisions involving three tractor trailer vehicles. The plaintiff’s tractor trailer was rear-ended by a tractor trailer owned by the defendant, which was in turn rear-ended by a third tractor trailer. The plaintiff sued the owners and drivers of both of the other tractor trailers, seeking compensation for personal injuries. Before trial, the plaintiff entered into an agreement with the owner of the third tractor trailer that neither would take any action adverse to the other and that the owner of the third tractor trailer would only owe the plaintiff half of any judgment entered against it. The owner of the third tractor trailer was later dismissed on a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff against the defendant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for new trial and, with little explanation, also suggested a remittitur of the jury’s verdict in all four categories of damages awarded. After the defendant appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement between the plaintiff and the owner of the third tractor trailer. Regarding the trial court’s remittitur, the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award for lost earning capacity, suggested a further remittitur to the award for loss of enjoyment of life, and affirmed the remitted award in the remaining two categories of damages. On appeal, we affirm the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement. We find no error in the trial court’s decision not to give the jury a special instruction on superseding cause. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to suggest a further remittitur absent a finding that the jury’s award—as remitted by the trial court—exceeds the uppermost boundary of the range of reasonableness under the evidence at trial, and so we reverse the Court of Appeals’ remittitur of the award for loss of enjoyment of life. As to the trial court’s remittitur, in view of the sharply conflicting evidence on the plaintiff’s damages, the trial court’s failure to indicate the reasons for its suggested remittitur leaves us unable to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the remittitur and, consequently, unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for explanation of its reasons for suggesting remittitur of the jury’s award. For the same reason, the Court of Appeals was without sufficient information to perform a meaningful review of the trial court’s suggested remittitur, so we vacate the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s remittitur of the award on lost earning capacity. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/borne.donriel.opn_.pdf

Justice Lee wrote a separate opinion in which she concurred in part and dissented in part, to wit:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/borne.donriel.sep_.opn_.pdf

NOTE: Like all opinions from the Tennessee Supreme Court this one is a must-read opinion.


Friday, November 17, 2017

New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion: The Collateral Source Rule Is Alive and Well!

Today the Tennessee Supreme Court issued its opinion in Dedmon v. Steelman, No. No. W2015-01462-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Nov. 17, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
We granted this appeal to address whether our holding in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), applies in personal injury cases. We hold that it does not. West held that “reasonable charges” for medical services under Tennessee’s Hospital Lien Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-22-101 to –107 (2012), are the discounted amounts a hospital accepts as full payment from patients’ private insurers, not the full, undiscounted amounts billed to patients. West, 459 S.W.3d at 46. West defined “reasonable charges” in the context of interpreting the Hospital Lien Act, and its holding is limited to that Act. As an alternative argument, we are asked in this appeal to consider applying the principles in West to the determination of reasonable medical expenses in personal injury cases. Doing so involves the collateral source rule, which excludes evidence of benefits to the plaintiff from sources collateral to the tortfeasor and precludes the reduction of the plaintiff’s damage award by such collateral payments. The rule is based on the principles that tortfeasors should be responsible for all of the harm they cause and that payments from collateral sources intended to benefit an injured party should not be used to reduce the liability of the party who inflicted the injury. After a thorough review of court decisions in Tennessee and across the country on the collateral source rule, we decline to alter existing law in Tennessee. We hold that the collateral source rule applies in this personal injury case, in which the collateral benefit at issue is private insurance. Consequently, the plaintiffs may submit evidence of the injured party’s full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of reasonable medical expenses. Furthermore, the defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable. The defendants remain free to submit any other competent evidence to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof on the reasonableness of the medical expenses, so long as that evidence does not contravene the collateral source rule. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
(Emphasis added via italics and bolding.)  Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/sites/default/files/dedmon.jean_.opn_.pdf

NOTE: This is a big win for the people of Tennessee.  The Tennessee Supreme Court made certain that the citizens of Tennessee were protected with this decision.  And for that, I am grateful. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Defense Verdict Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Commercial Bank & Trust Co. v. Children's Anesthesiologists, P.C., No.  E2016-01747-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
Commercial Bank & Trust Company, Legal Guardian of the Estate of Albert P. Mjekiqi, a Disabled Minor; Omer Mjekiqi and Gabriela Mjekiqi, Individually and as Legal Guardians of the Person of Albert P. Mjekiqi; and Volunteer State Health Plan, Inc. ... sued Children’s Anesthesiologists, P.C.; Heather D. Phillips, D.O.; Kari L. Clinton; Neurosurgical Associates, P.C.; Lewis W. Harris, M.D.; and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Association, Inc. d/b/a East Tennessee Children’s Hospital alleging health care liability in connection with surgery performed on Albert P. Mjekiqi [] in May of 2011. After a trial, the Circuit Court for Knox County ... entered judgment on the jury’s verdict finding no liability on the part of the defendants. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court raising issues with regard to admission of evidence and jury instructions. We discern no error, and we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

Friday, September 29, 2017

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

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Youngblood ex rel. Estate of Vaughn v. River Park Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
On July 11, 2015, Daniel Vaughn, an 86-year-old patient, was recovering from surgery in the intensive care unit of the defendant River Park Hospital. A nurse brought Mr. Vaughn some coffee, after which she left the room. He spilled the coffee on himself, suffering burns to his body. Nancy Youngblood, the executor of Mr. Vaughn’s estate, brought this action alleging that, given his condition, he “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” River Park, arguing that her claim is a health care liability action subject to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (2012 & Supp. 2017), moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA. Plaintiff argued that her claim does not fall within the definition of a “health care liability action.” The trial court disagreed and dismissed her action. We hold that the trial court correctly held her claim to be a health care liability complaint. Accordingly, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This case evinces just how broad the definition of "health care liability action" is under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-101(a)(1).  Presuit notice should have been set here under section 29-26-121 in my humble opinion.

Monday, September 25, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Defense Verdict Reversed on Appeal Due to Erroneous Jury Instruction on Sudden Emergency

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in VanDyke v. Foulk, No. E2016-00584-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
This is a medical malpractice action [(now known as a health care liability action)] in which the plaintiff filed suit against the hospital and her physicians following the death of her newborn son hours after his delivery. The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found in favor of the defendants. Following the denial of post-trial motions, the plaintiff appeals, claiming the trial court erred in excluding testimony and when it gave a jury instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. We reverse and remand for a new trial. 
(Footnote omitted.)

Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This is a must-read opinion for any trial lawyer who practices in Tennessee and handles health care liability actions.  It contains an excellent discussion of the law on sudden emergency in a health care setting.