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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:

Here is a link to Judge McBrayer's dissent:

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).  

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