Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

New Wrongful Death Case: Application of the Statutory Cap on Noneconomic Damages by the Trial Court Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Davis v. 3M Co., No. M2018-02029-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 30, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
In this wrongful death action, the plaintiff, the decedent’s spouse, asserted claims against multiple defendants. The plaintiff settled with all but one of the defendants prior to trial, and the settling defendants were dismissed from the case. At trial, the sole remaining defendant asserted the comparative fault of the decedent and the settling defendants. The jury assigned percentages of fault to the decedent, the defendant, and the settling defendants but returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The jury found noneconomic damages that, when reduced by the percentage of the decedent’s fault, exceeded the statutory cap. So the trial court entered a judgment against the defendant based on its percentage fault as applied to the statutory cap. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the statutory cap was incorrectly applied. We affirm. 
Here is a link to the opinion:


NOTE: Respectfully, I think this opinion is per incuriam for at least one very salient reason: the cap should have been 1.5 million and not $750,000.00 because there were two party-plaintiffs.  See Yebuah v. Ctr. for Urological Treatment, PLC, No. 2018-M2018-01652-COA-R3-CV, 2020 Tenn. App. LEXIS 250, at *2–3 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2020)(no Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed as of July 1, 2020) (affirming trial court's application of the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to each plaintiff); OD'neal Baptist Mem'l Hosp.-Tipton, 556 S.W.3d 759, 761 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2018) (noting that a child's surviving parents were two party-plaintiffs in a wrongful death action filed for the wrongful death of the parents' child).  

New Case on Attorney-Client Privilege: Wife's Claim of Privilege Disallowed Due to the Presence of a Third Party While She Spoke with Attorneys

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Pagliara v. Pagliara, No. M2019-01397-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 29, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This interlocutory appeal arises from a pending divorce action. During discovery, the husband sought certain communications between the wife and her attorneys. During some of these meetings between the wife and her attorneys, a third party was present during discussions of whether the wife should report conduct by the husband to law enforcement. The wife could not identify which of the meetings the third party had been present and which she had not. Because the wife did not meet her burden of proof in demonstrating that attorney-client privilege applied to the communications, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion offers a good discussion of the attorney-client privilege in Tennessee.  It is worth reading if you practice law Tennessee.  

Monday, June 22, 2020

New Premises Liability Case: Jury Verdict for Plaintiff Overturned on Appeal Due to the Lack of Material Evidence to Support Liability of One of the Defendants

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion today in Day v. Beaver Hollow, L.P., No. E2019-01266-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 22, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This appeal concerns a jury verdict in a slip and fall case. Geneva Jessica Day (“Plaintiff”), a resident of Beaver Hollow Apartments (“the Apartments”), sued Beaver Hollow L.P. (“BHLP”), which owned the Apartments, as well as Olympia Management, Inc. (“Olympia”) (“Defendants,” collectively), the entity BHLP contracted with to manage the Apartments, in the Circuit Court for Washington County (“the Trial Court”). Plaintiff was injured when she slipped on ice and snow in the Apartments’ parking lot. The jury allocated 49% of the fault to Plaintiff, 50% to Olympia, and 1% to BHLP. Defendants appeal. Defendants argue, among other things, that no material evidence supports the jury’s allocation of fault to BHLP. After a careful review of the record, we find no material evidence to support the jury’s verdict regarding BHLP, which exercised no actual control of the premises whatsoever. The Trial Court erred in denying Defendants’ motion for a directed verdict with respect to BHLP. As we may not reallocate fault, we vacate the judgment of the Trial Court, and remand for a new trial.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This is a rare case where a jury verdict is overturned due to a lack of material evidence, which is very rare.  A must read for any lawyer who tries cases in Tennessee state courts.  


Sunday, June 14, 2020

New Tennessee Health Care Liability Action Opinion: SCOTN Holds Common Knowledge Exception Applies in Case Involving a Massage Therapist

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its opinion Friday in Jackson v. Burrell, No. W2018-00057-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. June 12, 2020).  The syllabus form the slip opinion reads:
The question presented in this health care liability case is whether the plaintiff’s claim against a salon for negligent training, supervision, and retention of a massage therapist should be dismissed because the plaintiff did not file a certificate of good faith with her complaint under section 29-26-122 of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act . . . . Our answer depends on whether the common knowledge exception applies—that is, whether laypersons using their common knowledge and without expert testimony could decide whether the salon was negligent. If the common knowledge exception does not come into play and expert testimony is necessary, then the plaintiff needed to file a certificate of good faith with her complaint certifying that her negligence claim was supported by a competent expert witness and that there was a good faith basis for the claim. Here, the plaintiff alleged that a massage therapist working for the salon sexually assaulted her during a massage. In support of her claim of negligent training, supervision, and retention, the plaintiff presented evidence that before her assault, the salon had received complaints from two customers that the massage therapist had acted inappropriately and made them feel uncomfortable. The trial court granted summary judgment to the salon because the plaintiff had not filed a certificate of good faith. The Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the plaintiff had waived the common knowledge exception and that, in any event, expert testimony was necessary. We reverse and hold that 1) the plaintiff did not waive the common knowledge exception; and 2) the plaintiff’s claim against the salon for negligent training, supervision, and retention of the massage therapist was within the common knowledge of laypersons and did not require expert testimony about the standard of care in the massage industry. Thus, the plaintiff did not have to present expert proof to establish her negligence claim against the salon. It follows then that the plaintiff had no reason to file a certificate of good faith under section 29-26- 122, and her claim is not subject to dismissal for noncompliance with this section. The trial court’s award of summary judgment is vacated.
Here is a link to that opinion:


NOTE: This opinion reaches a fair result under the law (which is similar in a number of other states as well) regarding the common knowledge exception to the general requirement of expert testimony to prove both negligence and causation in a health care liability action under Tennessee law (formerly known as a medical malpractice case).  This is a must-read case for any lawyer who handles health care liability actions controlled by Tennessee law.  

Two important takeaways from reading this opinion: first, presuit notice letters must still be served in a health care liability action where the common knowledge exception applies, see Jackson, slip op. at 9; and, second, no certificate of good faith is required to be filed with the complaint under Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-16-122 when this exception is applicable, id. at 9–11.  

For what it is worth, the "classic" example of a health care liability action where the common knowledge exception applies is when a sponge is left in a patient after surgery.  I had one of those "classic" cases a few years back.  Tony Duncan,  Medical Malpractice: Grant of Summary Judgment for the Defense Reversed Due to the Common Knowledge Exception, Res Ipsa Loquitur, Etc., TONY DUNCAN L. BLOG (Aug. 17, 2010, 12:29 PM), http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2010/08/medical-malpractice-grant-of-summary.html.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Case Upheld on Appeal for Failure to Comply with Presuit Notice Procedure

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Carrasco v. North Surgery Center, L.P., No. W2019-00558-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This is a healthcare liability action resulting from injuries sustained by a guidewire left in the plaintiff’s neck following a procedure. The defendants moved to dismiss the action for failure to comply with notice requirements in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29- 26-121(a)(2)(E). The trial court dismissed the action without prejudice, and the plaintiff appealed. We affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: Regarding the need for HIPAA authorizations, please see my July 3, 2018-post.  Tony Duncan, New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Action as Time-barred Overturned on Appeal, TONY DUNCAN L. BLOG, Note (Jul. 3, 2018, 3:58 PM), http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2018/07/new-health-care-liability-action.html.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

New Tennessee Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Damage Cap Held to Apply to Each Plaintiff, Etc.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its decision today in Yebuah v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC, No. M2018-01652-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
Following surgery to remove a cancerous kidney, part of a gelport device was left inside the patient. The patient and her husband brought this health care liability action against multiple defendants, including the surgeon who removed the kidney and the radiologist who initially failed to detect the foreign object. The defendants admitted fault, so the trial focused solely on causation and damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded $4 million in noneconomic damages to the patient for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and $500,000 in noneconomic damages to her husband for loss of consortium. The trial court initially applied the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to the total damages award and entered a judgment of $750,000 in favor of both plaintiffs. In response to the plaintiffs’ motion to alter or amend, the trial court issued a revised judgment of $750,000 in favor of the patient and $500,000 in favor of the husband. But the court refused to address the plaintiffs’ arguments premised on the constitutionality of the statutory cap, ruling that the issue had been waived. The court also denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial or for a remittitur. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court erred in refusing to consider the plaintiffs’ constitutional issue. But because we also conclude that the statutory cap on noneconomic damages is constitutional and was applied properly and that the defendant is not entitled to a new trial or a remittitur, we affirm. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion must be read with McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC, 596 S.W.3d 686 (Tenn. 2020), which is the subject of my February 26, 2020 blog post, and can be found at this link:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

New Tennessee Health Care Liability Action Opinion: The Seller-shield Defense Found in the Tennessee Products Liability Act Inapplicable to Claims Made under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has issued its opinion in Heaton v. Mathes, No. E2019-00493-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 3, 2020).  The slip opinion reads:
The plaintiffs filed a health care liability action against a pharmacy and other medical defendants, claiming, inter alia, that the defendants failed to provide proper patient counseling and failed to warn of the risks associated with a prescription drug. The pharmacy defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the gravamen of the complaint against them was a products liability action rather than a health care liability action. The defendants further asserted that the “seller shield” defense found within the Tennessee Products Liability Act provided them with immunity from liability. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, ruling that the complaint stated a health care liability action rather than a products liability action. The trial court subsequently granted the defendants’ motion for permission to seek interlocutory appeal regarding whether the seller shield defense contained within the Tennessee Products Liability Act could be asserted when the plaintiffs’ claim is made pursuant to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. Following our thorough consideration of the issue, we affirm the trial court’s judgment, determining that the seller shield defense found in the Tennessee Products Liability Act is inapplicable to claims made under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This case offers a good analysis of the interplay between health care liability actions and product liability actions under Tennessee law.  A must-read opinion if you handle either type of case.

New Tennessee Premises Liability Case: Summary Judgment for the Defense Reversed Because Genuine Issues of Material Fact Exist; Spoliation of Evidence Discussed; Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal Denied

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion in Wilson v. Weigel Stores, Inc., No. E2019-00605-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This is a premises liability action in which the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant convenience store for personal injuries resulting from her slip and fall near the gasoline pump. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant caused or created or should have discovered with reasonable diligence the condition that caused her fall. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse the trial court’s decision. We remand this case for proceedings consistent with this opinion. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: The Court of Appeals did the right thing here; summary judgment should not have been granted under the facts of this case as they currently stand.  This case does a great job of describing the sjuumary judgment process in Tennessee.  It also offers a good discussion on spoliation of evidence.

Further, the appellee sought damages for a frivolous appeal.  Why, I do not know.  This was not a frivolous appeal by any stretch of the the imagination.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Summary Judgment for Defendants in Auto Case Reversed on Appeal Because Testimony from Interested Witnesses Could Not Be Used to Rebut the Statutory Presumptions Concerning Vehicle Ownership and Vicarious Liability

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion today in Gray v. Baird, No. M2019-01056-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2020).  The syllabus from the opinion reads:
This is an appeal of the trial court’s decision to summarily dismiss a claim of vicarious liability against the owner of the vehicle that was involved in a fatal vehicular accident. The driver of the vehicle was the son and employee of the vehicle owner, and it is alleged that the driver was acting in the course and scope of his employment with the vehicle owner at the time of the collision. The owner of the vehicle filed for summary judgment, and the trial court found the affidavits and deposition testimony of the owner and his son refuted the prima facie evidence of vicarious liability created by Tenn. Code. Ann. §§ 50-10-311 and -312 that the son was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. The plaintiff appeals contending that summary judgment was not proper because the owner and his son were interested witnesses and their credibility was at issue. We agree. It is undisputed that the son’s employment necessitated his travel on the road where the collision occurred, and whether the son had deviated from the defendant’s business prior to the collision is a material fact that is in dispute. For this reason, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/gray.shawn_.opn_.docx_.pdf.

NOTE: This is a good opinion to read if you handle motor-vehicle-collision cases in Tennessee.  It is also a nice follow-up read to Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d 692 (Tenn. 2002), which can be read at this link: