While some parts of the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA) are making their way towards substantial compliance, the Court of Appeals recently reiterated that the requirement to file a certificate of good faith under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122 is mandatory. In Dennis v. Smith, No. E2014-00636-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 31, 2015), plaintiffs filed an HCLA claim against defendant. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds (1) that plaintiffs did not comply with the pre-suit notice requirements because plaintiffs did not attach a HIPAA compliant authorization form to the notice letter, did not attach a list of all heath care providers receiving notice, and did not list the address of the claimant, and (2) that plaintiffs failed to file a certificate of good faith and failed to disclose the number of prior disclosure violations under § 29-26-122(d)(4). The trial court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal, the Court focused solely on the certificate of good faith issue, as failure to comply with the certificate of good faith requirements leads to dismissal with prejudice and would therefore be dispositive of the case. Plaintiffs here “concede[d] in their brief on appeal that instead of filing a certificate of good faith in compliance with the statute, plaintiffs filed a statement signed by their expert.” According to plaintiffs, this filing “over-complied by providing more information than the statute requires.” Essentially, plaintiffs argued that they provided the required information plus some and thus should be excused for not technically complying with the statute. The Court firmly disagreed.

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When do statements by counsel to a Tennessee judge in open court give rise to a binding settlement between the parties?

In Harvey v. Turner, No. M2014-00368-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 26, 2014), three parties had been involved in protracted litigation regarding property issues for six years. The matter finally went to trial, and after three days of testimony, the trial went on a short hiatus. During that time, counsel for all the parties exchanged emails and phone calls and eventually came to an agreement in principle. When the trial resumed, the attorneys appeared to announce the settlement to the court. By agreement, the parties themselves did not attend. The attorneys announced the terms to the court and affirmed to the court that their parties had agreed to the settlement, the parties agreed that the trial court would retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement, and the court accepted the settlement.

Subsequently, the parties were unable to come to an agreement on a final written settlement document, so a hearing was held. The defendant asserted that a sewer line was supposed to be included in the agreement, but the trial court disagreed. The trial court found that “there was a meeting of the minds and that that issue was not part of it.” The trial court held that there was an enforceable settlement agreement, and defendant appealed.

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Tennessee cities, counties and other types of governmental entities are generally immune from suit for damages arising from personal injury and wrongful death claims.  However, a special law,  the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), allows Tennessee cites and counties to be sued  for pseronal injury or wrongful death under certain circumstances by removing that immunity.

One special circumstance where a city or county can be held responsible for a personal injury  is   where injury is caused by “the dangerous or defective condition of any public building, structure,…or other public improvement owned and controlled by such governmental entity.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-204(a). In order for liability to be removed pursuant to this statute, the governmental entity in question must have had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. “[A] governmental entity will be charged with constructive notice of a fact or information, if the fact or information could have been discovered by reasonable diligence and the governmental entity had a duty to exercise reasonable diligence to inquire into the matter.” (Quoting Hawks v. City of Westmoreland, 960 S.W.2d 10 (Tenn. 1997)).

In Kee v. City of Jackson, No. W2013-02754-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 30, 2015), plaintiff was injured while walking across a wooden bridge from a parking area to the city fairgrounds during a flea market. The bridge was owned and maintained by the city. Plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the city, and the trial court found for plaintiff, deeming the city liable but finding that plaintiff was 40% comparatively negligent and reducing her award accordingly. The city appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Plaintiff alleged that the bridge had a “broken rotten runner,” “nails sticking up in more than one place,” and that “the planks were not even and that gaps exist between the boards in various places on the bridge,” as shown by pictures taken two days after the incident. Although there was no allegation or evidence that the city had actual notice of the dangerous condition of the bridge, the Court determined that plaintiff was proceeding under the “common occurrence” theory, meaning that “a plaintiff can show constructive notice by proving that a pattern of conduct, recurring incident, or general continuing condition caused the dangerous condition.” (Quoting Benn v. Public Bldg. Authority of Knox County, 2010 WL 2593932 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 28, 2010)). Continue reading

Although summary judgment is often thought of as a tool for defendants, plaintiffs in personal injury cases should remember that motions for summary judgment can be beneficial and successful for them as well. In Bloomfield v. Metro. Govt. of Nashville and Davidson Co., No. M2014-00438-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 26, 2015), plaintiff was a firefighter employed by Metro. He responded to a call regarding an elderly patient who was in a wheelchair. When a paramedic arrived to assist in moving the patient, the plaintiff and the paramedic moved the patient in the wheelchair towards the door of the home, where they realized that the patient would have to be lifted to clear a door threshold and step down. Plaintiff was at the head of the chair while the paramedic was at the foot. Plaintiff told the paramedic to hold on a second and turned to get information from family members, but the paramedic lifted the foot of the wheelchair without communicating to plaintiff first. When plaintiff saw that the chair was about to tip backwards he grabbed it, injuring himself.

Because the paramedic was also employed by Metro, plaintiff sued Metro for the injuries he alleged to have sustained due to the paramedic’s negligence. Plaintiff used the deposition testimony of several Metro employees to show that there was a standard for lifting a patient in a wheelchair and that the person at the head of the wheelchair was responsible for initiating the lift. Further, plaintiff used the paramedic’s own deposition testimony, wherein he admitted that he violated procedure by lifting at the foot before everyone was ready. Relying on these facts, plaintiff successfully moved for summary judgment as to liability for the paramedic’s negligence, and a trial was conducted on damages only, wherein plaintiff was awarded the maximum amount allowed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act.

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The issue of whether a Tennessee plaintiff who nonsuits his or her first medical malpractice (now heatlh care liability)  complaint must give a second notice before re-filing is a closed matter given the recent ruling in Foster v. Chiles.   In the recent case of  Potter v. Perrigan, No. E2013-01442-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 26, 2015), just such a scenario played out.

Plaintiffs gave pre-suit notice on January 8, 2009; they filed their initial suit on April 8, 2009; then on September 8, 2009, they voluntarily dismissed the action. One year later, pursuant to the savings statute, plaintiffs filed a second complaint on September 8, 2010. Attached to this complaint was a certificate of good faith and copy of the previously filed pre-suit notice. Plaintiffs did not send defendants a second pre-suit notice before re-filing their claims. Upon motion of the defendant, the trial court dismissed for failure to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121. The Court of Appeals initially reversed this decision, holding that “Plaintiffs fulfilled the notice requirement[.]” Defendant then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which remanded the case for reconsideration in light of an opinion it issued in January, 2015.

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When a plaintiff files a auto or other personal injury lawsuit, he may not be aware of all the potential defendants that should be named. Fairly often, a plaintiff may seek leave to amend his complaint and add a defendant even after the statute of limitations on the underlying claim has passed, usually citing the discovery rule as justification for this allowance. In a recent negligence case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals explored some of the limits on such allowances.

In Smith v. Hauck, No. M2014-01383-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 25, 2015), plaintiffs were in a car struck from behind by a vehicle driven by defendant on an interstate exit ramp. The accident occurred on June 25, 2012, and at the time there was no indication that defendant was driving in the course of his employment—i.e., neither defendant nor the police report mentioned this fact, and he was driving his personal car with no employer insignia. Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit on June 7, 2013, within the one-year statute of limitations, which defendant answered on August 26, 2013. Defendant’s answer did not state or allude to the fact that he was driving on employer business at the time of the accident. Four days later, plaintiffs served interrogatories and requests for production of documents on defendant. These discovery requests included items seeking information related to defendant’s employer and his purpose for driving at the time of the accident. When defendant’s responses were six weeks past due, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel on November 8, 2013. Defendant responded to the interrogatories on December 4, 2013, and for the first time in those responses stated that “he was traveling to St. Thomas Hospital to participate in surgery as part of his employment with St. Jude Medical.” On the same day they received these responses, plaintiffs filed a motion to add St. Jude Medical as a defendant. The motion was granted and plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on December 20, 2013. St. Jude then filed a motion to dismiss based on the one-year statute of limitations, which the trial court granted, but the Court of Appeals overturned.

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The judge’s in Tennessee’s 23rd Judicial District – Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys and Stewart Counties – have adopted new rules of court for the circuit and chancery courts.

Among the new rules is a requirement that all civil cases except appeals from the general sessions court be mediated before they can be set for trial.  Rule 3.04.

A recent Court of Appeals case illustrates that trying to make a Tennessee product liability claim against a product that did not technically cause the injury can be quite difficult. In Long v. Quad Power Products, LLC, No. E2013-02708-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 20, 2015), plaintiff was injured while pressure testing a product at work. Plaintiff tried to turn a ball valve in the test, and when the valve would not turn he “used an extension or cheater bar to continue his attempt to relieve pressure.” A mechanism attached to the valve then broke, which caused extremely high-pressured water to hit plaintiff, injuring his left arm and shoulder. Plaintiff eventually had to have his left arm amputated. At the time of appeal, there was only one defendant remaining in the case: the distributor from whom plaintiff’s employer purchased the ball valve used in the testing system. According to this defendant, however, this ball valve would have only been in its possession for around 24 hours and was not “assembled, designed, manufactured, or altered” by defendant. After some procedural history, the case eventually boiled down to a strict liability failure to warn claim on which the trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

When granting summary judgment for defendant, the trial court made certain relevant findings of fact: that the “failed component was not a part of the valve sold by defendant;” that the ball valve had actually been removed from service several days before the accident because it was difficult to use, but that in violation of the employer’s own safety rules it was later put into the test panel used by plaintiff; that a “simple inspection” by the employee who put the valve in the test panel would have showed that it was corroded; and that if the employer “had properly supported the valve in its test panel, the stress in the connected components would not have been sufficient to cause the connecting components to fracture.” In affirming summary judgment, the Court of Appeals relied on these facts and addressed four issues raised by plaintiff.

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A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case serves as a reminder that the bar for proving outrageous conduct is high for plaintiffs attempting to make a case for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). In Kindred v. Nat’l College of Bus. and Tech., Inc., No. W2014-00413-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 19, 2015), plaintiff sued her former college for, among other things, IIED related to the cancellation of her classes for one term. Plaintiff had her GED, and at the time of her initial enrollment the school did not require students to have an official copy of their equivalency certificate in their file. That policy later changed. Two weeks prior to the start of term 107, plaintiff went to the college to get a copy of that term’s schedule and was informed that her file did not have an official copy of her GED and that she was thus not in compliance with the school’s requirements. Plaintiff alleged that she presented the school with her GED equivalency card, but she did not dispute that she took no steps to get an official copy of her GED into her file.

Plaintiff started attending classes at the beginning of term 107, but after one week the director of the campus cancelled plaintiff’s schedule because her file did not comply with the official copy requirement. The director told plaintiff that she would not be charged tuition for that term and that she could return to classes the next term as long as she had provided an official copy of her GED. Plaintiff provided the school with her GED on the same day she was informed about her schedule cancellation, but the director refused to reinstate her for that term. Two months later, plaintiff enrolled in another term (term 111) at the same college. She was not allowed to enroll until she paid an outstanding balance for textbooks from term 107 (the cancelled term), which she paid after protest. Plaintiff attended two additional terms at the school, but at the end of term 113 she received a failing grade, which she unsuccessfully challenged. After that, plaintiff alleged that “she could no longer suppress her pain and distress that began with [defendant’s] degrading termination of her enrollment eight months earlier. Plaintiff further allege[d] that this forced her to cease her attendance at [the school] and abandon her educational/professional goals.”

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