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Wednesday, June 02, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Tennessee Supreme Court Holds That Cap on Noneconomic Damages Applies to Claims of Injured Spouse and Derivative Loss-of-consortium Claim in the Aggregate

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its decision today in Yebuah v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC, No. M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. June 2, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This is a healthcare liability action involving the application of the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to loss of consortium claims. The issue before the Court is whether the statutory cap on noneconomic damages applies separately to a spouse’s loss of consortium claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, thus allowing each plaintiff to receive an award of up to $750,000 in noneconomic damages. Here, the surgery patient filed suit for noneconomic damages resulting from the defendant physicians’ negligence, namely that a portion of a Gelport device was unintentionally left in her body after surgery. In the same suit, the patient’s spouse claimed damages for loss of consortium. The jury awarded the patient $4,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded her husband $500,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The trial court initially applied the statutory cap on noneconomic damages by entering a judgment in favor of both plaintiffs collectively for a total judgment of $750,000. However, the trial court subsequently granted the plaintiffs’ motion to alter or amend and applied the statutory cap to each plaintiff separately, thereby entering a judgment of $750,000 for the patient and $500,000 for her husband. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102 allows both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages. We therefore reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals and the trial court.

Here is a link to the majority opinion: 

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/yebuahcynthia.opn_.pdf.

Justices Lee, joined by Justice Clark, dissented; here is that opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/yebuahcynthia.sep_.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This decision is yet another result of the tort reform pushed by ALEC et al. that treats the citizens of Tennessee unfairly



Friday, May 28, 2021

New Summary Judgment Opinion: Summary Judgment for Defendant Upheld on Appeal Because Plaintiff Failed to Comply with Rule 56.03, Tenn. R. Civ. P.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its decision in Brennan v. Goble, No. E2020-00671-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
This appeal arose from a personal injury action. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a statement of material facts in compliance with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.03. The plaintiff responded to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment but failed to respond to the separate statement of material facts. As a result of the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the statement of material facts, the Trial Court deemed those facts as stated by the defendant as admitted and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon its determination that the defendant had negated an essential element of the plaintiff’s claim. Discerning no error, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This is a correct result.  I have seen both movants and nonmovants fail to comply with Rule 56.03's requirement of citing to the record to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment (which does not end well for the noncompliant party).  As noted on page 10 of this decision, Rule 56.03 exists so that a court does not have to unnecessarily dig through an entire record just to determine if a dispute exists as to a material fact.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Denial of Summary Judgment for a Defendant Upheld on Appeal; Authorization for Medical Records Substantially Complied with HIPAA

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its decision today in Savannah v. State, No. E2020-01232-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

Parents filed a healthcare liability and wrongful death complaint after the mother delivered a stillborn infant. We granted this interlocutory appeal to review whether the claims commission erred in denying summary judgment to the defendants. Finding no error in the Commission’s ruling, we affirm. 

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/savannah_leigh_jackson_et_al._v._the_state_of_tennessee_et_al..pdf.

NOTE: This is a must-read decision for any lawyer who handles health care liability action (HCLA) cases governed by Tennessee substantive law.  It addresses whether an authorization required under Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121 complies with HIPAA, which has become all-too-common issues in HCLA cases.  

Thursday, May 06, 2021

New Tort Opinion: Summary Judgment for Defense Reversed on Appeal Because Plaintiff Had Demonstrated That a Genuine Issue of Material Fact Existed for Trial

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion the other day in Davis v. Keith Monuments, No. E2020-00792-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

Plaintiff filed suit for damages alleging that she had been injured when the headstone at her deceased brother’s grave fell on her and broke bones in her hand. After Defendant, the installer of the headstone, moved for summary judgment, the trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. On appeal, we reverse that portion of the trial court’s summary judgment order dismissing Plaintiff’s claim which is based on Defendant’s alleged negligence in installing the headstone.

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/sylvia_davis_v._keith_monuments.pdf.

NOTE: This is a great opinion!  It addresses the proper application of the standard of review in summary judgment proceedings, computation of time, and expert-witness qualifications.  If you have to deal with a motion for summary judgment under Tennessee law, you need to read this opinion.   



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Refiled Suit Upheld on Appeal Due to Failure to Provide Statutorily Required Presuit Notice of Second Suit

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Byington v. Reaves, No. E2020-01211-COA-R3-CV.  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:

This is a health care liability case. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss because Appellant failed to provide Appellees with the proper pre-suit notice under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1). Discerning no error, we affirm.

Here is the link to the slip opinion:  

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/debra_sue_byington_v._jamie_reaves_d.o._et_al..pdf.

NOTE: Procedurally, this case is mess.  In a nutshell, the suit that is the subject of this appeal, which was plaintiff's second suit against the defendants, was dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to send to the defendants the statutorily required presuit notice letters.  Byington, slip op. at 4–5.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Grant of Relief Under Rule 60.02, Tenn. R. Civ. P., Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its decision in Mack v. Baptist Memorial Hospital, No. W2020-00809-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 30, 2021).  The syllabus form the slip opinion reads:

This appeal arises from a health care liability action. Darryl G. Rush-Mack . . . died while receiving care at Baptist Memorial Hospital . . . .  Alvin Mack . . . , Kevin Mack, and Darwisha Mack Williams . . . sued the Hospital and Dr. Aaron Kuperman . . . in the Circuit Court for Shelby County . . . .  Defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the Trial Court granted. Thirty days from entry of the order passed without Plaintiffs filing a notice of appeal. Plaintiffs later filed a motion to set aside pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 asserting that the order was not stamped to be mailed until six days after it was filed and it went to a PO Box Plaintiffs’ counsel does not use for business. The Trial Court granted the motion and entered a new order of dismissal, from which Mr. Mack appeals. We find that Mr. Mack failed to meet the clear and convincing evidentiary burden necessary for Rule 60.02 relief; indeed, the Trial Court relied only upon statements of counsel rather than evidence. We, therefore, reverse the Trial Court’s grant of Plaintiffs’ Rule 60.02 motion. 

Here is a link to the slip opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/mackalvinopn.pdf.

NOTE: This case is a reminder of the high burden to meet under the clear-and-convincing standard of evidentiary proof.  


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Case as Being Time-barred Due to a Failure to Comply with Presuit Notice Requirements Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its decision in Shaw v. Gross, No. W2019-01448-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 13, 2021).  The syllabus form the slip opinion reads:

Appellant appeals the dismissal of her health care liability complaint on the basis of the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. Because Appellant did not substantially comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), she was not entitled to an extension on the statute of limitations. The trial court’s decision that her complaint should be dismissed is affirmed. 

Here is a link to the slip opinion:

 https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/shawhelen2opn.pdf.

NOTE: This case is related to my Feb. 9, 2018-blog post.  Tony Duncan, 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, TONY DUNCAN L. BLOG (Feb. 9, 2018, 6:28 PM), http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2018/02/new-health-care-liability-action_9.html.