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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.  

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.