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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Denial of Motion to Revise Interlocutory Order Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Ingram v. Gallagher, No. E2020-01222-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 19, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This appeal arises from a healthcare liability action wherein the plaintiff initially sued the doctor, the hospital, and two other defendants. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the action without prejudice against all defendants except for the doctor. The doctor subsequently filed an answer to the complaint, stating that the action should be dismissed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act because the hospital, a governmental hospital entity and the doctor’s employer, was not a party to the action. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed a “Motion to Alter or Amend,” seeking to set aside the Trial Court’s order of dismissal in order to withdraw his voluntary dismissal of the hospital as a party. The Trial Court denied the plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend, determining that the voluntary dismissal order was a final order and that the plaintiff knew about the doctor’s employment with the hospital prior to the voluntary dismissal. We determine that the Trial Court erred by treating the plaintiff’s motion as a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60 motion, instead of a motion to revise pursuant to Rule 54.02, and further hold that the Trial Court erred by denying the plaintiff’s motion to revise the non-final order of voluntary dismissal.

Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: Procedurally, this case is a mess.  There was a lot going on in the trial court below.  This opinion, however, is a great one that addresses motions to revise interlocutory orders under Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.  A lot of lawyers file motions to "alter or amend" interlocutory (nonfinal) orders, which is procedurally improper; this opinion sheds light on the issue and hopefully will clear up any confusion on this issue.  

Also, practically speaking, the plaintiff could have added the hospital as a party-defendant under Tennessee's comparative fault joinder statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119, after the doctor's answer was filed indicating that he was an employee of the hospital at the time in question.  That would have remedied the problem of the employer not being a party to the lawsuit under Tennessee's Governmental Tort Liability Action (and would have been an easy fix, too).  See Bidwell ex rel. Bidwell v. Strait, 618 S.W.3d 309, 323–30 (Tenn. 2021),,43.

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