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Thursday, January 16, 2020

New Health Care Liability Action: Dismissal of Plaintiffs' Case Upheld on Appeal: Nurse Cannot Provide Causation Testimony; Issue Waived on Appeal Because It Was Not Properly Raised

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Lovelace v. Baptist Memorial Hosp. - Memphis, No. W2019-00453-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 16, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
Plaintiff filed a health care liability action against Defendant hospital following the death of Plaintiff’s husband in 2014. The trial court granted summary judgment to the hospital on two alternative, independent grounds: that the Plaintiff’s expert witness, a registered nurse, was not competent to testify as an expert witness, and that the expert witness failed to provide causation testimony as required to prove liability. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling about the competency of her expert witness, but she failed to raise the failure to provide causation testimony as an issue on appeal. As no argument was made to challenge a distinct ground for summary judgment, we consider the argument waived and affirm the trial court’s order granting summary judgment. 
Here is the link to the opinion:


NOTE: Two things stand out from reading this opinion: first, a nurse cannot render causation testimony in a health care liability action in Tennessee.  Richberger v. West Clinic, P.C., 152 S.W.3d 505, 506 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004), perm app. denied (Oct. 4, 2004). Second, appellate work is difficult, and can be somewhat arcane unless one does it regularly.  The abbreviation of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure is "T.R.A.P." for a reason.  However, while this case points out how waiver can occur on appeal, the lack of competent expert testimony is what killed the case.  And that is unfortunate.  

Saturday, December 14, 2019

New Health Care Liability Action: Case Remanded Because Order Was Not Final; Trial Court Sanctions Plaintiffs' Counsel

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion in Ibsen v. Summit View of Farragut, LLC, No. E2018-01249-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
In this healthcare liability action, the defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order allowing them to conduct ex parte interviews with some of the plaintiffs’ treating healthcare providers pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. [sec.] 29-26-121(f). After the trial court granted the qualified protective order allowing the interviews, plaintiffs’ counsel wrote a letter to plaintiffs’ treating providers concerning the interviews. The defendants then filed a joint motion for sanctions asserting that the letters sent by plaintiffs’ counsel violated the trial court’s order by attempting to prevent the treating providers from participating in the interviews. The trial court granted monetary sanctions against the plaintiffs and their counsel and ordered plaintiffs’ counsel to send retraction letters to plaintiffs’ treating providers. The plaintiffs appeal. We have determined that the order on appeal is not a final order and, therefore, dismiss the appeal.
Here is a link to the opinion:

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

NOTE: Sending letters to treating providers like this is not uncommon or per se wrong.  See Brazier v. Crockett Hosp.No. M2004-02941-COA-R10-CV, 2006 WL 2040408, 2006 Tenn. App. LEXIS 483, at *48 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 20, 2006).  However, Brazier was decided before Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121(f) was enacted.  Compare id. at *1 with T.C.A. § 29-26-121(f), Stat. Hist. (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance, current thought 2019 Reg. Sess.).  What got the Plaintiffs in trouble here was that the trial court specifically admonished them from doing what they did.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

New Health Care Liability Action: Trial Court's Dismissal of Plaintiffs' Case Based upon Deficient HIPAA-compliant Authorization Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Moore-Pitts v. Bradley, No. No. E2018-01729-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 9, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This appeal concerns a healthcare liability action filed by Jennifer Moore-Pitts and David Pitts ("Plaintiffs") in the Knox County Circuit Court ("Trial Court") against Carl A. Bradley, DDS, MAGD ("Defendant"). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' action on the basis of noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26- 121(a)(2)(E), which requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization allowing the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is sent a notice.' Approximately forty healthcare providers, including Defendant, received pre-suit notice from Plaintiffs. On the medical authorization provided to Defendant, Plaintiffs left blank the name of the individual or entity authorized to make the disclosure of medical records to Defendant but provided an attachment of the names and addresses of the other providers receiving notice. The Trial Court found that Plaintiffs' medical authorization provided to Defendant was not sufficient to allow Defendant to obtain Ms. Moore-Pitts's medical records from the other providers who received the pre-suit notice. As such, the Trial Court found that Plaintiffs could not rely on Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(c) to extend the statute of limitations for 120 days. Because Plaintiffs' action was filed one year and 118 days after the cause of action accrued, the Trial Court determined that Plaintiffs' action was untimely. The Trial Court, therefore, granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court. 
Here is a link to the opinion: 


NOTE: Respectfully, I think this opinion was decided incorrectly, which is explained in a one of my prior posts to this blog: 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

New Case on Proper Way to Maintain Suit When Plaintiff Dies from Something Other Than Injuries That Form the Basis of the Pending Suit; Case Remanded to Determine If Substitution May Be Had Based on Excusable Neglect

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Joshlin v. Halford, No. W2018-02290-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 6, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
In this interlocutory appeal, the defendants appeal the trial court’s denial of their motion to dismiss a medical malpractice lawsuit on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 25.01. We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.
Here is a link to the opinion:

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

NOTE: Like the case in my prior post, this is also a must-read decision about the difference between a wrongful death claim and an injury claim that survives the death of the injured person under Tennessee’s survival statues.  Those two types of claims are different because the former is not property of the deceased’s estate while the latter is.  That distinction makes a big difference when it comes to maintaining the claims postmortem.

Friday, November 01, 2019

New Case on Proper Way to Sue When Defendant Dies Before Suit Is Filed: Case Dismissed Because Plaintiff Failed to Properly Bring Suit Within Time Allowed by Law

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its decision in Khah v. Capley, No. M2018-02189-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This appeal arises from the dismissal of a personal injury action in which the alleged tortfeasor died before suit was filed. Upon a motion to dismiss, the trial court determined that the suit was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Because no personal representative was appointed for the deceased tortfeasor and more than a year had elapsed following the accrual of the plaintiff’s cause of action, we affirm the dismissal.
Here is a link to that opinion: http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/khah.vivian.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This is a must-read case for any lawyer who handles motor-vehicle tort cases (and any other case where a defendant dies prior to suit being filed).

This is a Davidson County (Nashville) case.  Plaintiff’s lawyers are from Shelby County (Memphis).  I do not know this to be fact, but, I suspect that Plaintiff’s lawyers did not have access to CaseLink (a system much like PACER in fed. ct. that is used in Davidson County).  Had they had access, they could have seen that the first return in general sessions court (Tenn. small claims court) was due to the tortfeasor’s death, and, hopefully, revived the case properly.  

Further, this case illustrates why I am of the opinion that cases like this should be filed a step up in circuit court for myriad reasons.  This is an unfortunate result.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

New SCOTN Case: Court Holds That Plaintiff in Tort Action Not Necessary Party for Purposes of Defendant's Insuror Seeking a Declaratory Judgment on Coverage Issues

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently released its opinion in Tenn. Farmers Mutual Ins. Co. v. DeBruce, No. E2017-02078-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Oct. 16, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
We granted review to determine whether a trial court had authority in a declaratory judgment action to resolve coverage issues between an insurance company and its insured when a claimant, who had sued the insured but did not have a judgment against him, was not a party to the action. Here, the claimant sued the insured for damages arising from an automobile accident. The insured did not cooperate with his insurance company. The insurance company sued its insured, seeking a declaratory judgment that the company did not have to provide liability coverage based on the insured’s lack of cooperation. The trial court awarded the insurance company a default judgment, holding that the company did not have to provide coverage under the policy. Nearly two years later, the claimant moved the trial court to set aside the default judgment and allow her to intervene, asserting that she was a necessary party. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action because the claimant was a necessary party, and the insurance company had not joined the claimant in the action. We hold that the insurance company and its insured—not the claimant—were necessary parties to the declaratory judgment action. The trial court could decide the coverage dispute between the insurance company and its insured with finality and certainty without the claimant’s participation in the action. The claimant, who had no judgment against the insured and could not bring a direct action against the insurance company to collect any damages caused by the insured, had no interest affected by the dispute between the company and its insured. The trial court had authority to grant declaratory relief because all necessary parties were before the court.
Here is a link to the opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/tennesseefarmersmutualinsuranceco.v.debruce.opn_.pdf

NOTE: This is a must-read opinion for any lawyer who handles auto-crash cases in Tennessee.  It offers the definitive word on who is a necessary party under the circumstances described in this case.  Good stuff.