The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment in negligence case where plaintiff testified that she was paying attention and evidence presented did not depict scene from plaintiff’s perspective.

In Walden v. Central Parking System of Tennessee, Inc., No. E2014-00939-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 27, 2015), plaintiff sued defendants for negligence after falling in a parking garage. According to plaintiff, she was leaving a doctor’s appointment and walking toward her car when she fell because she did not see a step down from the curb/lobby area to the garage floor. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that she was looking down, paying attention, was not distracted, and that everything looked gray and she did not see any yellow or any other reason to notice that there was a step down. Instead, plaintiff testified that from where she was walking, everything looked the same.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, submitting photographs of the place where plaintiff fell as evidence. These photos showed yellow striping on the curb and in the “no parking area immediately in front of the curb.” Defendants admitted, however, that these photographs were taken “from an angle and viewpoint different from the one Plaintiff would have had as she was walking toward her vehicle.” The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, finding that there no genuine issue of fact, that there was no fault on the part of defendants, and that the accident occurred “due to [plaintiff’s] own failure to observe the open and obvious condition of the premises that was there to be seen.” The Court of Appeals reversed.

Continue reading

As HCLA cases continue to make their way through the court system, we are learning more about what will constitute substantial compliance with the pre-suit notice content requirements. In the recent case of Harmon v. Shore, No. M2014-01339-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 23, 2015), the Court of Appeals reaffirmed what seems like an overly harsh result related to substantial compliance with the required HIPAA authorization.

In Harmon, plaintiff was injured by a procedure performed solely by Dr. Shore. Plaintiff submitted pre-suit notice to the two defendants she later named in her suit, Dr. Shore and the relevant hospital. The HIPAA form enclosed, however, only released plaintiff’s medical records to her own lawyer. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was initially denied in 2013, but following a denial of Rule 9 appeal from the Court of Appeals and then a remand from the Supreme Court to reconsider in light of the holding in Stevens v. Hickman Cmty. Health Care Servs., 418 S.W.3d 547 (Tenn. 2013), the motion to dismiss was granted by the trial court.

Plaintiff did not argue that her HIPAA form strictly complied with the statutory requirements. Instead, her essential argument was that her non-compliance with the technical requirements should be excused because the defendants already had all the records at issue in this case. In her reply to defendants’ motion to dismiss, plaintiff stated:

Appellants submit that an example of sufficient “cause” is that Appellants knew [the hospital] had Dr. Shore’s records. We know [the hospital] had all of her records because it sent them to her four months before the Notice was sent and Dr. Shore’s records were included.

[The hospital] also had a HIPAA compliant medical authorization in its possession as early as June 7, 2012, scarcely a month after the incident. It also had the other Defendant’s records, i.e., Gregg Ian Shore, M.D. We know this because it sent those exact records to Ms. Harmon on June 7, 2010.

We also know that [the hospital] had the Shore records because Shore was their agent and he sent her the same records. Therefore, extraordinary cause exists for the exercise of judicial discretion.

The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s case. Citing Stevens, the Court stated that “because HIPAA itself prohibits medical providers from using or disclosing a plaintiff’s medical records without a fully compliant authorization form, it is a threshold requirement of the statute that the plaintiff’s medical authorization must be sufficient to enable defendants to obtain and review a plaintiff’s relevant medical records.” Though the errors in the HIPAA form that led to dismissal in Stevens were “multiple” and here plaintiff made the sole error of only allowing disclosure to her own attorney, the Court found this difference immaterial. Quoting Stevens, it noted that “First, and most importantly, by permitting disclosure only to Plaintiff’s counsel, Plaintiff’s medical authorization failed to satisfy the express requirement of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) that a plaintiff’s medical authorization permit the provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from each other provider being sent notice.”

The Court went on to cite Roberts v. Prill, No. E2013-02202-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 2921930 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2014), where it said that “[t]he question of whether a plaintiff’s permitting disclosure of medical records only to plaintiff’s lawyer is sufficient, standing alone, to warrant dismissal of a lawsuit on grounds of failure to substantially comply with the pre-suit notice requirements” had been answered in the affirmative. Like the plaintiff here, the plaintiff in Roberts argued that the defendant was not prejudiced by the non-compliant HIPAA form because he already had all the relevant records in his possession. The Roberts Court, however, held that “HIPAA generally provides that a covered entity may not use or disclose protected health information without valid authorization. Plaintiff’s case did not fall within one of the limited circumstances anticipated by HIPAA that would allow for the use of the records without authorization. The form failed to provide Defendants with the proper authorization to use the medical records to mount a defense.”

Likewise, the Court here ultimately upheld the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s case, as the error on the HIPAA form allowing disclosure only to plaintiff’s counsel was determined to make the case subject to dismissal.

This result seems excessively harsh considering that the defendants in this case had access to all of the medical records they might have requested with proper HIPAA forms. With two cases on this issue, though, the Court of Appeals appears to have made its opinion fairly clear. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court takes one of these cases to provide clarity on this matter.

In a recent case that fell under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed the discretionary function exception to the GTLA as well as the findings a trial court must make to support a summary judgment decision.

In Lewis v. Shelby County, No. W2014-00408-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 17, 2015), two counselors who worked at a correctional facility in Shelby County sued for negligence related to injuries they sustained when attacked by an inmate. Plaintiffs alleged that on the night of the attack, the facility was understaffed; that they radioed their supervisor two times prior to the attack but he failed to appear; and that they made four “code red” calls for assistance during the attack, but that no one responded. Their suit was based on each of these three allegedly negligent acts.

Continue reading

In Holder v. Shelby County, No. W2014-01910-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 21, 2015), a father sued the county for acts of negligence by a county employee that he alleged caused the death of his son. The son was involved in a car accident and subsequently arrested. Upon evaluation, the son was determined to have a mental condition that caused him to be a threat to himself and others. He was accordingly put into a special housing unit for unstable inmates, where policy dictated that a guard perform mandatory safety checks of all inmates every thirty minutes.

Officer Moore was on duty from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm on the day the son was in the facility. Moore later admitted that he did not do any safety checks during that time, despite writing in the log book that he did and that at 9:16 pm all the inmates, including plaintiff’s son, were resting peacefully. After the 10:00 shift change, another deputy performed a safety check at 10:14 pm and found the son hanging in his cell by a bed sheet. The son still had a pulse but was not breathing, and he eventually died from his injuries.

Plaintiff filed suit alleging that his son died as a “result of Deputy Moore’s negligence and that Shelby County was vicariously liable.” The County filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the grounds that 1) the complaint alleged only intentional acts and 2) Officer Moore was not acting within the scope of his employment, either of which would be enough to find that immunity was not removed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). The trial court granted the County’s motion, finding that the complaint failed to allege any negligent acts and that Moore’s falsification of the logs was not within the scope of his employment. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed this decision.

Continue reading

In Hayes v. Coopertown’s Mastersweep, Inc., No. W2014-00783-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 17, 2015), plaintiffs brought a negligence claim based on the alleged negligent inspection of their fireplace. Two issues were addressed on appeal—whether defendant owed a duty of care to plaintiffs and whether this case fell under the four-year statute of repose applicable to injuries to real property related to deficient design and construction.

In 2000, plaintiffs purchased a house built in 1964 that had a fireplace, which plaintiffs had remodeled by a third party. Part of this remodel included lowering the firebox to be flush with the floor. The remodeled fireplace did not work well, allowing smoke to escape into the den, the upper floors and the attic. Plaintiffs thus hired defendant to inspect the fireplace and determine what was causing the smoke issues. Plaintiffs did not tell defendant about the previous fireplace renovations or that the firebox had been lowered. Defendant performed the inspection requested, and part of the defendant’s work “went beyond the inspection that [plaintiffs] contracted for,” including inspecting beneath the fireplace from the crawlspace and drilling into the fireplace to determine whether any combustible material was coming into contact with the fireplace. Because of the design and construction of the fireplace, however, “there were areas underneath the fireplace that could not be seen or inspected” by defendant. Defendant made certain redesign recommendations based on his inspection, and plaintiffs hired defendant to perform the recommended work. Defendant completed this work on October 8, 2003. Subsequently, on January 17, 2005, plaintiffs’ home was damaged by fire when “wooden floor joists that had been in contact with the firebox ignited from exposure to heat generated by the fireplace,” a problem related to the first remodel done by the unnamed third party.

Continue reading

Justifiable reliance is one of four elements a plaintiff must prove in a negligent misrepresentation case. In the recent case of Pritchett v. Comas Montgomery Realty & Auction Co., Inc., No. M2014-00583-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 15, 2015), the Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff who signed an agreement stating that the sale of real estate was “as is” and that he would only rely upon his own inspection could not prove this essential reliance element of his negligent misrepresentation claim.

The plaintiff in Pritchett went to an auction for commercial real estate that had been advertised as being 11,556 square feet. Before the auction began, plaintiff signed a “Terms of Sale” form that stated that everything was being sold “as is” and that “buyer shall rely entirely on their own inspection and information.” The auctioneer also announced that all property was sold “as is.” Plaintiff was the highest bidder and thus signed a contract of sale. The contract stated that “buyer specifically acknowledges herein that the property is being purchased ‘as is’ and that neither the Seller nor [Defendant] makes any warranties or representations, express or implied, as to the habitability or condition of the real property contained herein.” The sales contract did not state the square feet of the building. After taking possession of the property, plaintiff discovered that the building was actually only 9,353 square feet and accordingly brought this negligent misrepresentation claim. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, although on different grounds.

Continue reading

The Court of Appeals recently released an extensive opinion in a Tennessee car accident case, full of issues regarding evidence and trial questions. Three of the findings in this opinion are critical for tort lawyers to familiarize themselves with: (1) that where there is evidence that a plaintiff could not see an approaching car, a directed verdict for the defendant was not negligent would not be appropriate; (2) that long-term care damages can be causally related to the accident and recoverable, despite the age of the plaintiff; and (3) that an award of non-economic damages should be reduced by any comparative fault finding before the statutory cap is applied.

In Monypeny v. Kheiv, No. W2014-00656-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct App. April 1, 2015), a married couple who were 82 and 90 years old were driving in a vehicle that was struck by defendant. Evidence showed that prior to the accident, the husband and wife were both quite active and lived completely independently. Following the accident, however, the wife died a few months later in the hospital as a result of injuries sustained therein, and the husband went through the hospital, rehabilitation facility, and then an assisted living center, never able to live independently again. Plaintiffs filed suit for economic and non-economic damages, asserting that defendant’s driving caused the crash, while defendant responded that plaintiff husband (the driver at the time) was at fault. Because the driver of the other car was not insured, plaintiffs’ uninsured motorist carrier acted as defendant. At trial, the jury found for plaintiffs, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Continue reading

At what point do email blasts from one state into another allow a defendant to be sued in the state where the emails were sent (and where the plaintiff resides)?

Plaintiff lived in Illinois and was injured at a ski resort in Wisconsin.  He sued the resort in Illinois and the resort moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The evidence indicated that 65 – 70% of the guests at the ski resort were from Illinois and that representatives of the resort attended a trade show in Chicago each year.  The resort did no print or other ads in Illinois.  It did collect email addresses from people, including those from Illinois, and did email blasts in an effort to solicit customers.  It also had a website where people from Illinois and elsewhere could reserve rooms (but not purchase lift tickets.  Finally, it offered tour packages from Chicago to the resort.

Continue reading

In 2011, a subsection was added to our state statutes regarding surviving spouses’ rights to institute and collect proceeds from Tennessee wrongful death actions:

  • Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the right to institute and the right to collect any proceeds from a wrongful death action granted by this section to a surviving spouse shall be waived, if the children or next of kin establish the surviving spouse has abandoned the deceased spouse as described in 36-4-101(a)(13) or otherwise willfully withdrawn for a period of two (2) years.
  • If the period of two (2) years has passed since the time of abandonment or willful withdrawal, then there is created a rebuttable presumption that the surviving spouse abandoned the deceased spouse for purposes of this section.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(c). Until recently, this new subsection had not been interpreted by Tennessee courts, but the Court of Appeals took up the task of analyzing the statute in Baugh v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. M2014-00353-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 31, 2015).

Continue reading