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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New Tennessee Supreme Court Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court and Court of Appeals Reversed; Plaintiffs' Claims Found to Be Time-barred Due to Ineffective Presuit Notice

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its opinion today in Runions v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, No. W2016-00901-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Jun. 6, 2018).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
The Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1) (2012 & Supp. 2017), requires a person who asserts a potential health care liability claim to give written pre-suit notice of the claim to each health care provider that will be named a defendant at least sixty days before the complaint is filed. The question we address is whether the trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint, after the expiration of the statute of limitations, to substitute as a defendant a health care provider to which the plaintiff had not sent pre-suit notice. The health care provider the plaintiff sought to substitute had knowledge of the claim based on pre-suit notice the plaintiff had mistakenly sent to another potential defendant. We hold that the plaintiff did not comply with the mandatory pre-suit notice provision of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1) because she did not give written pre-suit notice of the potential claim to the health care provider she later sought to substitute as a defendant after the expiration of the statute of limitations. Although the health care provider learned about the claim based on the pre-suit notice the plaintiff sent to another potential defendant, this form of notification did not comply with the notice requirement of section 29-26-121(a)(1). Because the plaintiff did not comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1), the 120-day filing extension under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c) is not applicable. Under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03, the filing date of the proposed amended complaint may relate back to the filing date of the original complaint. The plaintiff, however, filed the original complaint after the expiration of the statute of limitations. As a result, the plaintiff’s motion to substitute the health care provider is futile because the amended suit would be subject to dismissal based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. The trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint. We reverse the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

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

NOTE: This post is related to Feb. 8, 2017 blog post, which can be found at this link:

http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2017/02/new-health-care-liability-opinion-trial.html


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

New Opinion on Spoliation of Evidence: Dismissal of Plaintiffs' Case Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Gardner v. R & J Express, LLC, No. E2017-00823-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 7, 2018).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
In this negligence action that arose from a tractor-trailer accident, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims following the court’s determination that a critical piece of evidence had been destroyed by the plaintiffs, resulting in severe prejudice to the defendant. The court further determined that dismissal was the only equitable remedy for the plaintiffs’ spoliation of evidence. The plaintiffs timely appealed the dismissal of their claims. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/john_a._gardner_et_al._v._r__j_express_llc.pdf

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal Reversed as to Some Defendants

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Brookins v. Tabor, No. W2017-00576-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
A plaintiff filed a health care liability complaint in 2015 against several physicians and entities that he later non-suited in order to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a). The plaintiff then filed a second complaint against the same defendants, relying on the saving statutes of Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1- 105 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c) to extend his statute of limitations. The plaintiff’s wife joined him as a plaintiff in the second complaint. The defendants filed motions to dismiss, alleging non-compliance with the pre-suit notice requirements and the statute of limitations. The trial court granted all of the defendants’ motions and dismissed the complaint. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint against the physicians. Interpreting the complaint liberally and presuming the truth of plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the HIPAA authorizations, we reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint against two of the physicians and affirm the dismissal of the complaint against one of the physicians on statute of limitations grounds. We affirm the trial court’s judgment dismissing the wife’s claims against all of the defendants.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

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

NOTE: We are blessed to have some really good judges and justices on our appellate courts in Tennessee.  This opinion is one example of why that is the case: it discusses presuit notice in health care liability actions (med mal cases), the saving statute, the discovery rule, etc.  It's a good read in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion: Wrongful Death Claim of Surviving Spouse Trumps Claim Made by Deceased's Children in This Intance

The Supreme Court of Tennessee just issued its opinion in Nelson v. Myres, No. M2015-01857-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Mar. 5, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
The primary issue in this appeal is whether a surviving spouse maintains priority to file a wrongful death action when the decedent’s child has also filed a wrongful death action in which the child alleges that the surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The trial court dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death complaint, but the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, ruling that under the circumstances presented in this case, the surviving spouse was disqualified from filing the wrongful death action. Because the wrongful death statutes do not include an exception to the spousal priority rule and because the surviving spouse did not waive his right to file the wrongful death action, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death action. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the cause remanded to the trial court. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/nelson.brittany.opn__0.pdf

NOTE: This is a follow-up post to my January 19, 2017 blog post about this same case after the Court of Appeals issued its decision.  Here is a link to that post:

http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2017/01/new-wrongful-death-opinion-surviving.html

Also, this opinion, as are all opinions from the Tennessee Supreme Court, is a must-read opinion and a reminder that wrongful death claims are creatures of statute and must be construed under the canons of statutory construction.  In this instance, there is no statutory exception to spousal priority to file and maintain such an action.




Tuesday, February 20, 2018

New Opinion on Motions to Strike and Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Santore v. Stevenson, No. W2017-01098-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
At issue in this personal injury action is whether the trial court erred by striking the defendant’s affirmative defense that an unknown “John Doe” driver of an Averitt Express truck was comparatively at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. Relying on Brown v. WalMart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785 (Tenn. 2000) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, the trial court struck the affirmative defense as to John Doe and Averitt Express upon the finding that the defendant failed to sufficiently identify John Doe so that the plaintiff may serve process on John Doe. We have determined the trial court’s discretionary decision to strike the affirmative defense of comparative fault as to John Doe and Averitt Express was premature because the defendant was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to engage in pre-trial discovery to endeavor as to the identity of John Doe in sufficient detail for the plaintiff to serve process on John Doe. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Here is a link to the opinion:

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

NOTE: This opinion does a good job of explaining motions to dismiss under Rule 12 and its interpretive case law.  However, it appears to be in conflict with two cases: Breeding v. Edwards, 62 S.W.3d 170, 171 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001), https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17466177028433188467&q=Breeding+v.+Edwards&hl=en&as_sdt=4,43, and Marler v. Scoggins, 105 S.W.3d 596, 597 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002), https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12866630331774870801&q=Marler+v.+Scoggins&hl=en&as_sdt=4,43.  Both of those cases acknowledge an exception to the rule against faulting a phantom (i.e., John Doe) tortfeasor, which is relied upon in this case.  It is also interesting that this opinion makes no mention of Breeding or Marler, which are reported opinions and controlling authority under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 4(G)(2).  I might need to give this case another think (I've been up since 4:30 a.m.), but, as for now, I cannot reconcile it with Breeding or Marler.  Perhaps the litigants did not bring Breeding or Marler to the Court's attention.  



Friday, February 09, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court Reversed Due to Discovery Rule, Its Decision Vacated Because It Failed to Adhere to the Proper Summary Judgment Standard, Which Leads to a Remand by Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shaw v. Gross, No. W2017-00441-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
The plaintiff in a health care liability action appeals the dismissal of her claim on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations and the failure to provide pre-suit notice compliant with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(3)(B). Because the undisputed facts in the record fail to establish that decedent was aware of the alleged misdiagnosis prior to his death, we reverse the trial court’s ruling on this issue. We also determine that the trial court failed to apply the appropriate standard or adequately explain its decision regarding the plaintiff’s alleged non-compliance with section 29-26- 121(a)(3)(B). We therefore vacate the dismissal of the complaint on this basis and remand for reconsideration in light of the appropriate standard. Reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This is a good opinion on the application of the discovery rule in health care liability actions (formerly known as medical malpractice actions or cases) and a trial court's duty when granting summary judgment, inter alia.  I highly recommend reading this opinion.