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Thursday, July 01, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: New Trial Ordered Due to Trial Court Errors as to Expert Witness Testimony and Premajority Medical Expenses

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Borngne ex rel. Hyter v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, No. E2020-00158-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 1, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads: 

This health care liability action arises from injuries suffered by a minor, Miyona Hyter, during her birth. Miyona Hyter, a minor by and through her next friend and mother, Brittany Borngne[,]  . . . sued, among others, Dr. Michael Seeber who delivered the child via cesarean section and certified nurse midwife Jennifer Mercer who assisted with the birthing process. Plaintiff alleged that Nurse Mercer was negligent by failing to recognize concerning signs on the fetal monitoring strip and by failing to call Dr. Seeber for assistance sooner than she did. The Circuit Court for Hamilton County . . . , by agreed order, granted Dr. Seeber partial summary judgment on all claims of direct negligence against him; he remained in the case as a defendant only upon Plaintiff’s theory that he was vicariously liable for Nurse Mercer’s actions as her supervising physician. During his deposition, Dr. Seeber declined to answer questions that he argued required him to render an expert opinion regarding Nurse Mercer’s care during times that Dr. Seeber was not present and had no involvement in Plaintiff’s care. The Trial Court declined to require Dr. Seeber to answer questions that “call[] for an opinion by Dr. Seeber that asks him to comment on the actions of other healthcare providers and does not involve his own actions, as required by Lewis v. Brooks,” 66 S.W.3d 883, 887-88 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). After Nurse Mercer’s deposition, she submitted an errata sheet that substantively altered her answers to some of the questions. Plaintiff moved to suppress the errata sheet, arguing that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 30.05 does not allow a witness to make substantive changes to her deposition testimony. The Trial Court denied the motion but allowed Plaintiff the opportunity to reopen Nurse Mercer’s deposition and to fully cross-examine her at trial about the changes. The case proceeded to trial before a jury, which returned a verdict in Defendants’ favor. We hold that the Trial Court erred by refusing to order Dr. Seeber to answer the questions at issue in his deposition. Deeming this case distinguishable from Lewis v. Brooks, we reverse the Trial Court in its declining to compel Dr. Seeber to testify concerning the conduct of his supervisee, Nurse Mercer, and remand for a new trial. We also reverse the Trial Court in its decision to exclude proof of Miyona Hyter’s pre-majority medical expenses. We affirm the Trial Court as to the remaining issues.

Here is a link to the majority opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/e2020-158_borngne_v._chattanooga.pdf.

Here is Judge Davis's opinion that concurs in part and dissents in part:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/e2020-158_borngne_v._chattanooga_sep_opin.pdf.

NOTE: This decision offers a good discussion of deposition testimony and errata sheets under Rule 30.05 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, expert witness testimony (especially related to subordinate providers), and premajority medical expenses. 

Once can be certain that the Tennessee Supreme Court will be asked to review this case via an application for permission to appeal under Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  More to come.  

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