Search This Blog

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Trial Court's Dismissal of Civil Action Upheld on Appeal Because Plaintiff Failed to Have Leading Process Reissued and Properly Served upon a Defendant

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Middleton v. City of Millington, No. W2018-00338-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant city on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Specifically, the trial court ruled that plaintiff’s complaint was ineffective to toll the statute of limitations where service of process on the city clerk did not comply with Rule 4.04(8) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and process was not reissued. Discerning no error, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion cites one of my cases, Fair v. Cochran, 418 S.W.3d 542, 544 (Tenn. 2013).  MiddletonW2018-00338-COA-R3-CV, slip op. at 3.  Both this opinion and Fair are must-reads if you practice on the civil side in Tennessee state courts because they stress the point that while filing a civil action within the applicable statute of limitations is vitally important, the service of leading process is also vitally important to prevent claims in a civil action from becoming time-barred.  

What can a plaintiff do when insufficiency of service of process is pleaded as an affirmative defense like what was done in this case?  Take a look at Rule 4.07 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, which can be viewed at this link: http://www.tncourts.gov/rules/rules-civil-procedure/407.

Rule 4.07 has a cost-shifting provision that helps ensure that a defendant is properly before a Tennessee state court (much like the similar federal provision).  It has some teeth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Parks v. Walker, No. E2017-01603-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2018).  The syllabus from the majority opinion reads as follows:
This is a health care liability action. Plaintiff gave written pre-suit notice of her claim to potential defendants. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c) (2018). She then filed her complaint. Defendants filed motions to dismiss. After a hearing, the trial court held that plaintiff failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the notice statute by failing to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). It entered an order granting defendants’ motions to dismiss. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.
Here is a link to the majority opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/parks_vs._walker_coa_majority_opinion.pdf

Judge Swiney authored a dissent, which can be found here:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/jennifer_parks_v._walker_dissenting_coa_separate_opinion.pdf


NOTE: Respectfully, I think the majority opinion is in error.  Again it confounds me that the courts of Tennessee—and many lawyers—have not picked up on the fact that a defendant (or potential defendant) in a health care liability action does not have to have a HIPAA-compliant authorization to share a patient's or plaintiff's protected health information ("PHI") with other defendants and their legal counsel because because doing that is part of a covered entity's "health care operations" as defined by 45 C.F.R. sections 164.501, -502(b), -.514(d).

As such, dismissal of a health care liability action because a defendant did not get a HIPAA-compliant authorization for a patient's PHI would be improper because Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121's requirement that such an authorization be enclosed as part of a claimant's presuit notice appears to be preempted by HIPAA. 

Again, I think the dissent is in error for the reasons stated above.  




Friday, November 16, 2018

New Comparative Fault Opinion: Trial Court's Decision to Allow Fault to Be Allocated to an Agritourism Nonparty Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Green v. St. George's Episcopal Church, No. M2017-00413-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This appeal arises from a jury verdict in a personal injury action. The defendant alleged the comparative fault of a nonparty who was potentially immune from liability under Tennessee’s agritourism statute. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 43-39-101 to -103 (Supp. 2018). Before trial, the defendant asked the court to exclude all evidence and argument before the jury regarding statutory immunity as irrelevant and prejudicial. The court excluded argument and evidence of immunity but allowed the parties to present evidence on whether the nonparty had complied with the statute. At the conclusion of the trial, the court permitted the jury to apportion a percentage of fault to the nonparty without considering the nonparty’s compliance with the agritourism statute. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to allocate fault to the nonparty because the agritourism statute provided immunity from fault as well as liability. We conclude that nothing in the agritourism statute precludes the allocation of fault to a nonparty agritourism professional in a negligence action. So we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This opinion does a good job of explaining Tennessee's system of modified comparative fault and the allocation of fault under as affected by our agritourism statutes, which grant immunity under certain circumstances.  

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Defense Verdict in Second Trial Upheld on Appeal

Yesterday the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Alumbaugh v. Wackenhut Corp., No. M2016-01530-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
After the plaintiff’s father was killed by an armed security guard, she filed a wrongful death action against the security guard’s employer. The complaint alleged both vicarious and direct liability and sought an award of compensatory and punitive damages. The employer maintained that the guard acted in self-defense. After the first trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. But the trial court ordered a new trial based on errors in the calculation of damages. A second jury verdict apportioned the greater proportion of fault to the decedent, resulting in a defense judgment. On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the trial court made numerous errors in the conduct of the second trial. After a thorough review, we conclude that the trial court did not commit reversible error. So we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This opinion offers an interesting analysis of rebuttal evidence, directed verdicts, punitive damages (pre-2011), negligent supervision, amendments to conform to the evidence, and missing evidence and spoliation of evidence.  

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Denial of Motions to Dismiss Based upon a Finding of Extraordinary Cause Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Reed v. West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc., No. W2018-00227-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 8, 2018).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
We granted this Rule 9 interlocutory appeal in this healthcare liabil[i]ty action to consider whether termination of representation by plaintiff’s prior legal counsel a few weeks before the expiration of the statute of limitations in this healthcare liability action constitutes sufficient extraordinary cause to excuse (1) plaintiff’s failure to wait at least sixty days to file the complaint after providing pre-suit notice as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121; and, (2) plaintiff’s failure to file a Certificate of Good Faith with the complaint as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122. We find and hold that the Trial Court did not err in finding and holding that termination of representation by plaintiff’s prior legal counsel a few weeks before the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations does constitute the type of extraordinary cause sufficient to excuse plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and 29-26-122. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s orders denying the motions to dismiss.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: At times, "extraordinary cause" is required in some instances under our medical negligence law in Tennessee.  However, that phrase is not defined by statute, which is why this opinion helps shed some light on what it actually means.  As such, this is a must-read opinion for any lawyer who handles health care liability (f.k.a. medical malpractice) cases in Tenn.  

New Health Care Liability Opinion: Trial's Court's Grant of Summary Judgment Reversed on Appeal Due to the Application of Res Ipsa Loquitur

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Anderson v. Wang, No. M2018-00184-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This is a health care liability case. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion for summary judgment on Appellant’s res ipsa loquitur claim under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-115(c). Appellant appeals. Because Appellant presented sufficient evidence at the summary judgment stage to create a dispute of fact, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/anderson.katherine.opn_.pdf

NOTE: I'm glad my Deuel case helped in this one.  Anderson v. Wang, No. M2018-00184-COA-R3-CV, slip op. at 67 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2018) (citing Deuel v. Surgical Clinic, PLLC,  No. M2009-01551-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 3237297, at *10 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2010)).  In my humble opinion, the Tennessee Court of Appeals got this one right.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

New Tennessee Court of Appeals' Opinion: Trial Court Reversed Due to Erroneous Ruling as to the Admission of Medical Records

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Goodwin v. Hanebis, No. M2017-01689-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2018).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
This is an appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict. The case arises from a motor vehicle accident. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellee, and the trial court entered a final judgment for $68,995.02. Because the trial court erred in excluding relevant medical records, we reverse the judgment and remand for a new jury trial.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion is a great reminder of Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 24-7-122 and its effects upon evidence at trial relating to the admission of medical records.  This is a must-read opinion for any trial lawyer who practices in Tennessee.  

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Grant of Motion to Dismiss Upheld on Appeal (Due to a Misunderstanding of HIPAA?)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has issued its opinion in Buckman ex rel. Buckman v. Mountain States Health Alliance, No. E2017-01766-COA-R3-CV(Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 26, 2018).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
This is a healthcare liability case. Before filing the complaint, the plaintiff gave written notice to the potential defendants of her healthcare liability claim against them. Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) requires that a plaintiff’s pre-suit notice include a HIPAA compliant medical authorization permitting the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is being sent a notice. After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on noncompliance with the statute, as the defendants alleged that the HIPAA authorization provided by the plaintiff had already expired when they received it. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the HIPAA authorization was invalid due to the fact that the listed expiration date had already passed when the authorization was provided to the defendants with pre-suit notice. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.
Here is a link to that opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/konah_evangeline_buckman_v._mountain_states_health_alliance.pdf

Here is a link to the separate concurring opinion by Judge Swiney (which is a must-read):

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/konah_evangeline_buckman_v._mountain_states_health_alliance_et_al._-_concurring_opinion.pdf

NOTE: I think this opinion is in error.  Again it confounds me that the courts of Tennessee—and many lawyers—have not picked up on the fact that a defendant (or potential defendant) in a health care liability action does not have to have a HIPAA-compliant authorization to share a patient's or plaintiff's protected health information ("PHI") with other defendants and their legal counsel because because doing that is part of a covered entity's "health care operations" as defined by 45 C.F.R. sections 164.501, -502(b), -.514(d).

As such, dismissal of a health care liability action because a defendant did not get a HIPAA-compliant authorization for a patient's PHI would be improper because Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121's requirement that such an authorization be enclosed as part of a claimant's presuit notice appears to be preempted by HIPAA. 



https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/disclosures-treatment-payment-health-care-operations/index.html


Monday, July 16, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Grant of Summary Judgment as to Causation Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Harmon v. Hickman County Health Services, Inc., No. M2016-02374-COA-R3-CV (Jun. 29, 2018).  Here is a link the syllabus from that opinion:
This suit was brought by the children of a woman who died while incarcerated at Hickman County Jail. Defendant is a contractor of the jail that provides medical services at the jail; a nurse in Defendant’s employment treated the decedent for symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal. She passed away shortly after. The children brought this suit under the Health Care Liability Act claiming negligence and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. In due course, Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that there was not a genuine issue of material fact as to causation and it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that element of Plaintiffs’ claim; the trial court granted Defendant’s motion and subsequently denied a motion to revise, filed by the Plaintiffs. This appeal followed.
Here is a link to the majority slip opinion: 

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/harmon.bonnie.opn_.pdf

Here is a link to Judge McBrayer's dissent:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/harmon.bonnie.dissentingopn.pdf

NOTE: This decision can be confusing in my opinion as to the difference between a motion to revise a nonfinal, interlocutory order under Rule 54, Tenn. R. Civ. P., and a motion to alter or amend a final judgment under Rule 59, Tenn. R. Civ. P.  (A perusal of this blog can help explain the difference between those two motions.)

Respectfully, I think the majority opinion got this one right; footnote 13 in that opinion is worth reading—and memorizing—in my humble opinion.  This policy of resolving disputes upon their merits and not upon procedural technicalities is one that Justice (of the United States Supreme Court) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote about in The Common Law; that is because it avoids vigilantism (a "blood feud") from erupting in society.  And, it helps preserve the people's right to trial by jury, which "remains inviolate" in Tennessee (as to questions of fact, like agency and the amount of damages).  

Monday, July 09, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Denial of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Overturned on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion today in Smith v. Wellmont Health Systems, No. E2017-00850-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 9, 2018).  The syllabus from the opinion reads as follows:
This interlocutory appeal involves a health care liability action. Plaintiff gave potential defendants written notice of his malpractice claim. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c). Plaintiff then filed his complaint. In doing so, he relied upon a 120-day extension of the one year statute of limitations as provided for in § 29-26-121(c). Each defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. By an order entered April 1, 2015, the trial court granted the joint motion to dismiss of three of the defendants. The court’s order concluded that plaintiff’s complaint was time-barred. Plaintiff did not appeal the court’s judgment and, with the passage of time, it became final. Meanwhile, the motions to dismiss of the other defendants, all of which were essentially based upon the same ground as that of the joint motion of the dismissed defendants, were awaiting resolution by the trial court. Before this could happen, however, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his complaint. Nine months later, plaintiff sent a new pre-suit notice. Four months after that, plaintiff filed a second health care liability action against the same defendants, including those dismissed by the trial court in its April 1, 2015 order. All defendants again moved to dismiss the complaint. The trial court denied the motions. Later, the trial court decided that its April 1, 2015 dismissal order was incorrect. It concluded that plaintiff’s first complaint was not time-barred because, according to the court, plaintiff provided proper pre-suit notice. On the defendants’ further motions, the court granted them permission to pursue an interlocutory appeal pursuant to the provisions of Tenn. R. App. P. 9. We did likewise. We now reverse the judgment of the trial court denying defendants’ motions to dismiss. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/ernest_smith_v._wellmont_health_system_et_al..pdf

NOTE: This opinion was consolidated for purpose of oral argument with Roberts v. Wellmont Health Systems, No. E2017-00845-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 5, 2018), which is the subject of my July 6, 2018 blog post, to wit: http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2018/07/new-health-care-liability-action_6.html.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action ("HCLA") Opinion: Despite Being Presented as a Declaratory Judgment Action, Trial Court Found the Action to Be a HCLA, Dismissed It as Being Time-Barred, and Dismissal Was Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has issued its opinion in Estate of Myers v. Questall, No. M2017-01954-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 6, 2018).  The summary from the opinion reads as follows:
Appellants appeal the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellee, medical doctor. The trial court found that Appellant’s petition for declaratory judgment sounded in health care liability and was barred by the statute of limitations. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(1). Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

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

NOTE: Health care liability actions, formerly known as medical malpractice cases, are defined by statute in Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-101(a)(1).  And that definition is very broad, which this opinion points out.   While lawyers are required to be creative at times to get a case in front of a jury (count me among the "creative" types), this case demonstrates that health care liability actions are set up in a way to prohibit that type of creativity, which prevents an injured person from obtaining a remedy at law a lot of times.  

Friday, July 06, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Denial of Motions to Dismiss Reversed on Appeal; Claim Determined to Be Time-barred Due to Ineffective Presuit Notice (Defective (Partially Blank) HIPAA Auths.)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Roberts v. Wellmont Health Systems, No. E2017-00845-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 5, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This interlocutory appeal involves a health care liability action. Plaintiff gave written presuit notice of her claim to all potential defendants. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c) (Supp. 2013). Later, she filed a complaint against the same defendants. In doing so, she relied upon the 120-day extension of the one-year statute of limitation as provided for in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c). Each defendant filed a motion to dismiss. Prior to a hearing on those motions, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her complaint. Plaintiff subsequently served each defendant with new pre-suit notice and later re-filed her complaint in reliance on the one-year savings statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-105, and the 120-day extension pursuant to § 29-26-121(c). Defendants moved to dismiss the second complaint. The trial court denied defendants’ motions. In doing so, the court took “judicial notice” of the practice of some attorneys in the Second Judicial District of providing their adversaries with “blank” authorizations. The court ultimately held that the medical authorizations in the first pre-suit notice were not only HIPAA compliant, but “overly” so. The trial court concluded that, because the first pre-suit notice was, according to the court, valid, the first-filed complaint was timely filed. Upon the request of the defendants, the court granted them permission to pursue an interlocutory appeal pursuant to the provisions of Tenn. R. App. P. 9. We likewise granted defendants permission to file a Rule 9 discretionary appeal. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the plaintiff’s suit with full prejudice.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/desiree_dawn_roberts_et_al._v._wellmont_health.pdf

NOTE: As noted in this opinion, a partially blank HIPAA-compliant authorization is not HIPAA-effective because they do not contain the core elements required of medical records authorizations.  However, are HIPAA-compliant authorizations even needed in such instances, or, is the sharing of a patient's protected health information allowed under HIPAA's "health care operations" provisions?  See the note in my prior blog post for the answer.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Action as Time-barred Overturned on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its decision in Martin v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02214-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jun. 22, 2016).  The syllabus from the opinion reads as follows:
This is an appeal in a health care liability action from the dismissal of the action for Plaintiffs’ failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) when they failed to provide the Defendants with HIPAA compliant authorizations for release of medical records. The trial court held that, as a result of the failure, Plaintiffs were not entitled to an extension of the one-year statute of limitations for bringing suit and the action was barred. Plaintiffs appeal. Upon our review, we find that Plaintiffs substantially complied with the requirements of section 29-26-121 and that the Defendants have not shown that they were prejudiced by the deficiencies in the authorizations; accordingly, we reverse the decision of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This is a must-read opinion because it delves into the intricacies of presuit notice as contemplated by Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121, and its nuances.

Also, it confounds me that the courts of Tennessee—and many lawyers—have not picked up on the fact that a defendant (or potential defendant) in a health care liability action does not have to have a HIPAA-compliant authorization to share a patient's or plaintiff's protected health information ("PHI") with other defendants and their legal counsel because because doing that is part of a covered entity's "health care operations" as defined by 45 C.F.R. sections 164.501, -502(b), -.514(d).

As such, dismissal of a health care liability action because a defendant did not get a HIPAA-compliant authorization for a patient's PHI would be improper because Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121's requirement that such an authorization be enclosed as part of a claimant's presuit notice appears to be preempted by HIPAA. 



https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/disclosures-treatment-payment-health-care-operations/index.html






New Commercial Motor Vehicle Opinion on Master and Servant in Tennessee: Opinion Overlooks Applicable Federal Law

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in McClure v. Cole, No. M2017-00187-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jun. 22, 2018).  The syllabus from that slip opinion reads as follows:
Personal injury action arising out of accident between a pickup truck and a dump truck hauling materials for a company that paved roadways. The pickup truck driver sued the driver of the dump truck and the paving company to recover for injuries he sustained in the accident. The trial court granted the paving company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the driver of the dump truck was an independent contractor and that the paving company was not liable for the dump truck driver’s negligence. The injured driver appeals. Upon a thorough review of the record, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/mcclure.jimmy_.opn_.pdf

NOTE: I'm afraid that this opinion overlooks applicable federal law, which is a huge omission that adversely affects the case; I strongly suspect the litigants did not bring this applicable law to the trial court's attention.  Why does federal law apply in this state case?  Because Tennessee has adopted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations ("FMCSRs").  49 C.F.R. §§ 301–309, adopted pursuant to Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1340-06-01-.08 via Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 65-2-102 & 65-15-113 (adopting the FMCSRs to intrastate use of commercial motor vehicles).   And the FMCSRs apply to a "commercial motor vehicle," which, among other things, is a vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating ("GVWR") in excess of 10,001 pounds.  49 C.F.R. §§ 383.5, 390.5.  The dump truck in question more than likely had a GVWR in excess of 10,001 pounds, which made the FMCSRs applicable in this case.  And under the FMCSRs, the operator of the dump truck, Cole, was an "employee" and Highway his "employer," 49 C.F.R. §§ 383.5, 390.5 (defining among other terms "employee" and "employer" for purposes of operation of a "commercial motor vehicle"), which could have possibly gotten the plaintiff past summary judgment as to the respondeat superior claim, or, even to a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.  Perry v. Harco Nat'l Ins. Co., 129 F.3d. 1072, passim (9th Cir. 1997) (finding that an operator of a commercial motor vehicle was an employee and not an independent contractor as defined under the definitions contained in the FMCSRs), https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4390761991902461199&q=129+F.3d.+1072&hl=en&as_sdt=6,43


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.  

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

New Wrongful Death Case on the Number of Peremptory Challenges That Parents Have Who Both Join in a Suit for the Wrongful Death of Their Child

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in O'Dneal v. Baptist Mem'l Hosp.-Tipton, No. W2016-01912-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
Plaintiff parents of infant who died in child birth appeal a jury verdict in favor of the medical provider defendants. During voir dire, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ request for additional peremptory challenges under Tennessee Code Annotated section 22-3-104(b) on the basis that Plaintiffs were bringing their claim on behalf of the decedent infant. Based upon the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Beard v. Branson, 528 S.W.3d 487 (Tenn. 2017), we conclude that the trial court erred in treating Plaintiffs as a single “party plaintiff” and that Plaintiffs were entitled to eight peremptory challenges under the statute at issue. We also hold that under Tuggle v. Allright Parking Sys., Inc., 922 S.W.2d 107 (Tenn. 1996), the trial court’s error resulted in prejudice to the judicial process that necessitates a new trial. All other issues are pretermitted. Reversed and remanded. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This is a must-read opinion for any Tennessee trial lawyer who handles wrongful death cases.

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Refiled Case Time-barred Because Prior Case That Was Nonsuited Was Untimely Filed

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Dortch v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hosp., No. W2017-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This is a health care liability case. Appellant/Plaintiff first filed suit against Appellees/Defendants for medical malpractice in April 2014. Defendants filed motions to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements for health care liability claims. Before the trial court could hear Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit, and an order was entered thereon. Plaintiff subsequently re-filed her case against Defendants in September 2016 in reliance on the one year savings statute. Defendants moved the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s suit based on the statute of limitations. The trial court granted Defendants’ motions and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice, holding that, because Plaintiff’s original presuit notice was defective, her first complaint was untimely and she could not rely on the savings statute to revive a time-barred cause of action. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

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

NOTE: This case is a reminder of two things: first, a case can only be filed under the saving statute if it was timely filed before it was nonsuited; and, second, health care liability actions are very difficult to prosecute.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New Tennessee Court of Appeals' Opinion on Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Scales v. H.G. Hill Realty Co., LLC, No. M2017-00906-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 30, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion is as follows:
A customer slipped and fell at a grocery store and sued four different entities that owned and/or operated the store. When two of the defendants filed a motion to compel the plaintiff to respond to discovery responses, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed these defendants from the action. Then, in response to an answer to an amended complaint in which another defendant asserted the comparative fault of the dismissed defendants, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint adding the dismissed defendants back in as named defendants pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119. The newly added defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment. We hold that the statute permitted the plaintiff to add the formerly dismissed defendants back into the lawsuit.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/scales.mary_.opn_.pdf

NOTE: This is my case.  I represent the plaintiff.  In my totally biased opinion, I think that the Court of Appeals got this one right.  Also, this is a must-read opinion as to section 20-1-119 and how it is to be construed and applied.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Opinion: How Long Does a Plaintiff Have to File Suit When the Tortfeasor Dies After the Wrongful Conduct? This Opinion Answers That Question.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has issued its opinion in Putnam v. Leach, No. W2017-00728-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion is as follows:
This is a personal injury case involving a motor vehicle accident. The alleged tortfeasor died subsequent to the injury-causing accident. The plaintiffs were unaware of the decedent’s death and commenced this suit naming him as a defendant. Some months later, after learning of the decedent’s death, the plaintiffs sought the appointment of an administrator ad litem in the Probate Court and amended their complaint naming the administrator ad litem as a party as required by the survival statute. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the plaintiffs’ complaint was not properly filed until after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs timely appealed. Having concluded that the plaintiffs did not properly commence their lawsuit within the time afforded by the applicable statute of limitations, we affirm. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion contains a great discussion of the statute of limitations in personal injury actions, the discovery rule, and what happens when a tortfeasor dies and a lawsuit must be commenced against the tortfeasor (and when an adminstrator ad litem needs to be appointed).  This is a must-read opinion for any Tennessee lawyer who handles tort cases.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Intentional Acts Are Not Covered by the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act ("THCLA"); Negligent Training and Supervision Claims Are Covered by the THCLA; and If wrongful Acts Fall Within the Common-knowledge Exception to Expert Testimony No Certificate of Good Faith Is Required to Be Filed

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued it opinion in C.D. v. Keystone Continuum, LLC, No. E2016-02528-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 22, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
The plaintiff, C.D., a minor, was a resident of Mountain Youth Academy, a trauma focused residential treatment facility,1 when he got into a physical altercation with an employee of the defendant Keystone Continuum, LLC doing business as Mountain Youth Academy. The employee, Jacob Spencer, is described by the defendant as a “mental health associate.” The plaintiffs describe him as a “third shift night guard.” The minor’s mother filed this action, proceeding both individually and on behalf of her son. The complaint alleges, among other things, that Spencer pulled the minor plaintiff to the ground and stomped on his foot, causing him injury. Defendant moved to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint in this case alleges health care liability claims. Defendant argued that because of plaintiffs’ (1) failure to provide pre-suit notice under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (the THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26- 121 (Supp. 2017), and (2) their failure to file a certificate of good faith with the complaint, id. § 29-26-122, the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice. The trial court held that plaintiffs’ claims sounded in health care liability. It dismissed the mother’s action with prejudice. The court also dismissed the minor’s action, but did so without prejudice.2 Defendant appeals, arguing that the minor’s action should have been dismissed with prejudice. The plaintiffs also present issues. They argue that the trial court erred in ruling that their claims are based upon health care liability. Additionally and alternatively, plaintiffs argue that their claims fall within the “common knowledge” exception to the general requirement of expert testimony in a health care liability action. We hold that plaintiffs’ claims for assault and battery are unrelated to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services. As a consequence of this, we hold that the plaintiffs’ assault and battery claims do not fall within the ambit of a “health care liability action” as defined by the statute. We further hold that plaintiffs’ direct claims against the defendant, for negligent supervision and/or training of its employees, are health care liability claims but ones involving matters that ordinary laypersons will be able to assess by their common knowledge. Hence, expert medical testimony is not required. The trial court’s judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims for assault and battery is vacated. We further hold that mother’s failure to provide the defendant with pre-suit notice mandates a dismissal of her claim for negligent supervision and/or training, but that dismissal should have been without prejudice rather than with prejudice. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment on this part of mother’s claim is modified to reflect that the dismissal is without prejudice. We affirm the trial court’s judgment dismissing the minor’s claim of negligent supervision and/or training and further affirm the trial court’s judgment that this dismissal is without prejudice.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/c.d._et_al._v._keystone_continuum_llc_dba_mountain_youth_academy.pdf

New Opinion: Contractual Indemnification Claim Against a Health Care Provider Not a Health Care Liability Action

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Johnson v. Rutherford County, Tenn., No. M2017-00618-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 11, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
The plaintiffs, as co-conservators for their adult son, filed this action against the county, seeking payment of medical expenses incurred by their son following an assault upon him by another inmate while he was incarcerated at the county jail facility. The plaintiffs later amended their complaint to add allegations of civil rights violations, general negligence, and health care liability. The county filed a third-party complaint against the medical provider with whom the county had contracted to provide medical services for the inmates at the jail. The third-party complaint was based upon an indemnity clause contained within the respective parties’ contract. The medical provider filed a motion to dismiss the county’s third-party complaint because the county had not complied with the requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed the county’s third-party complaint by reason of the county’s failure to comply with the requirements of the THCLA. The county timely appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred by treating the county’s third-party complaint as a THCLA claim, we reverse the court’s dismissal of the county’s third-party complaint.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/johnson.melissa.opn_.pdf