Search This Blog

Friday, September 29, 2017

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

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Youngblood ex rel. Estate of Vaughn v. River Park Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
On July 11, 2015, Daniel Vaughn, an 86-year-old patient, was recovering from surgery in the intensive care unit of the defendant River Park Hospital. A nurse brought Mr. Vaughn some coffee, after which she left the room. He spilled the coffee on himself, suffering burns to his body. Nancy Youngblood, the executor of Mr. Vaughn’s estate, brought this action alleging that, given his condition, he “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” River Park, arguing that her claim is a health care liability action subject to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (2012 & Supp. 2017), moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA. Plaintiff argued that her claim does not fall within the definition of a “health care liability action.” The trial court disagreed and dismissed her action. We hold that the trial court correctly held her claim to be a health care liability complaint. Accordingly, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: This case evinces just how broad the definition of "health care liability action" is under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-101(a)(1).  Presuit notice should have been set here under section 29-26-121 in my humble opinion.

Monday, September 25, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Defense Verdict Reversed on Appeal Due to Erroneous Jury Instruction on Sudden Emergency

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in VanDyke v. Foulk, No. E2016-00584-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
This is a medical malpractice action [(now known as a health care liability action)] in which the plaintiff filed suit against the hospital and her physicians following the death of her newborn son hours after his delivery. The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found in favor of the defendants. Following the denial of post-trial motions, the plaintiff appeals, claiming the trial court erred in excluding testimony and when it gave a jury instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. We reverse and remand for a new trial. 
(Footnote omitted.)

Here is a link to the slip opinion: 

NOTE: This is a must-read opinion for any trial lawyer who practices in Tennessee and handles health care liability actions.  It contains an excellent discussion of the law on sudden emergency in a health care setting.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Trial Court's Denial of Summary Judgment and Jury Verdict Because Surviving Spouse's Initial Pro Se Filing of Wrongful Death Action Was Not Void Ab Initio

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its opinion in Beard v. Branson, No. M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 30, 2017).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
We granted permission for this appeal to determine whether a surviving spouse who files a wrongful death lawsuit is acting as a legal representative of the decedent and whether a wrongful death lawsuit filed pro se by the surviving spouse is void ab initio based on the spouse’s pro se status. In this case, the decedent’s surviving spouse filed a pro se wrongful death health care liability lawsuit shortly before the one-year statute of limitations lapsed. After expiration of the limitations period, the spouse retained an attorney and filed an amended complaint. In the ensuing discovery, the defendants learned that the decedent had two daughters, both of whom were statutory beneficiaries in the wrongful death action. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment. They argued that the spouse’s initial pro se complaint was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and the other statutory beneficiaries and that it was, therefore, void ab initio; thus, the filing of the amended complaint could not relate back to the date of the initial complaint, and the lawsuit was time-barred. The trial court denied the summary judgment motions and permitted the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial pro se complaint. It then conducted a jury trial; the jury found both defendants liable and awarded damages. The defendant hospital appealed the denial of summary judgment. Adopting the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals reversed. The plaintiff now appeals. Under the plain language of Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, the decedent’s right of action “pass[es] to” the surviving spouse upon the decedent’s death, and the surviving spouse asserts the right of action for the benefit of himself and other beneficiaries. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(a) (2009 & Supp. 2016). Consequently, we hold that the surviving spouse did not file the initial pro se complaint as the legal representative of either the decedent or the decedent’s estate. As we construe our wrongful death statutes, in filing the pro se complaint, the surviving spouse was acting to a large extent on his own behalf and for his own benefit pursuant to his right of self-representation. Under the facts of this case, we hold that the initial pro se complaint was not void ab initio, it served to toll the statute of limitations, and the trial court did not err in allowing the filing of the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, affirm the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the other issues that were properly raised on appeal but not addressed.
Here is link to the slip opinion: