Add Bockelman v. GGNSC Gallatin Brandywood LLC, No. M2014-02371-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2015), to the long list of cases in which a Tennessee court affirmed an order upholding the validity of an arbitration agreement signed by the deceased’s designated health care agent.

The patient at issue here had signed a “Health Care Agent” form in December 2008, appointing her daughter as her agent. The form provided that the daughter was given “permission to make health care decisions for me if I cannot make decisions for myself, including any health care decision that I could have made for myself if able.” In January 2010, the patient’s doctor deemed her incompetent to make health care decisions, and he documented and signed such designation.

Following the incompetence designation, the patient had several other medical appointments. Some notes from these subsequent appointments indicated that she did not have any “neurological deficits,” while others referred only to a “physical incapacity.” She was treated at times based on her own preferences rather than her best interests, yet the official incompetence designation was never overturned or amended.

In May 2010, the patient was admitted to defendant nursing home. During the admission process, daughter presented the health care agent form and signed all the admission documents on patient’s behalf, although daughter later testified that patient was competent at this time. One document signed by daughter as patient’s agent was an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement. At the top, this form noted in bold, capital letters that it was “not a condition of admission to or continued residence in the facility.”

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In Parsons v. Wilson County, No. M2014-00521-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 3, 2015), plaintiff fell from the top bunk bed he was assigned while he was an inmate at Wilson County jail, and he sued the county under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) for negligence in failing to assign him to a bottom bunk. According to plaintiff, he informed employees at the jail of his need for a bottom bunk during the intake procedure, citing “existing shoulder and neck injuries.” When he was assigned to a cell, though, he was assigned a top bunk. While getting out of the bunk after sleeping in it, he fell and injured his shoulder.

At trial, the county employee who oversaw management of the jail testified that “a procedure was in place to determine which inmates received a bottom bunk.” The procedure included forms completed during intake, which were then sent to a medical unit where nurses could “review the forms, meet with inmates, determine whether an inmate is able to be placed in the general population in that jail, and make the decision about whether or not the inmate’s medical needs necessitate that the inmate be assigned a bottom bunk.” Based on the testimony of this employee, plaintiff, and a physician, the trial court ruled in the County’s favor. The trial court ruled that the county was performing a discretionary function under the GTLA and thus retained immunity; that the county “had no duty in this case to provide Plaintiff with a bottom bunk;” that there was no breach of duty to plaintiff; that it was not foreseeable that plaintiff would jump from his bed; and that “Plaintiff was guilty of more than fifty percent (50%) of the fault.” While the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in the County’s favor regarding duty, it also reversed two of the trial court’s specific rulings.

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A recent Court of Appeals case reminds plaintiffs’ attorneys of the importance of diligently reading any answer filed and working quickly to remedy problems related to the proper party being named and/or service of process. In Urban v. Nichols, No. E2014-00907-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 4, 2015), plaintiff filed a negligence claim after injuring her foot and heel while using a waterslide at Willow Brook Lodge. In her complaint, filed on July 11, 2012 (which was exactly one year to the date from her injury), plaintiff named Robin Nichols and Willow Brook Lodge as defendants. It was undisputed that the complaint was only served, however, by personal service to Robin Nichols’s son.

The named defendants filed an answer on August 27, 2012. Therein, they asserted that the Lodge was actually owned by Accommodations by Willow Brook Lodge, LLC and that Ms. Nichols was not an owner. Further, they plead “insufficiency of process and insufficiency of service of process.”

Plaintiff’s counsel sent a letter to counsel for defendants on November 7, 2012, requesting permission to amend the complaint. Defendants responded by letter one week later denying the request. Plaintiff’s counsel took no further action in the case until February 7, 2013, again sending a letter requesting to amend the complaint to defendants. Defendants’ attorney sent another denial on July 22, 2013. Finally, on August 21, 2013, plaintiffs filed a motion to amend with the trial court. In response, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the “failure to correctly serve process on either Ms. Nichols or the Lodge required the dismissal of the action.” The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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In Springfield Investments, LLC v. Global Investments, LLC, No. E2014-01703-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2015), plaintiffs sued defendants for intentional interference with business relationships related to plaintiffs’ opening of a Wendy’s restaurant in Cleveland, Tennessee. Defendants already owned and operated a Wendy’s in Cleveland, and in 1998 one of plaintiff’s brothers signed a non-compete agreement with defendants agreeing not to open a Wendy’s in Cleveland. A later “Clarification and Confirmation” document signed by the brother included that no entities he was associated with would open a Wendy’s, including Springfield Investments, LLC (a plaintiff in this case). The individual plaintiff in this case was never a party to the non-compete, and by the time that the pertinent events took place the brother signing the non-compete was not the owner of Springfield Investments.

In January 2010, plaintiffs began the process of seeking approval from Wendy’s to build and open a restaurant in Cleveland. Because it would be 4.8 miles from defendants’ existing Wendy’s, the restaurant chain’s procedures required defendants to be notified and have the opportunity to oppose the new franchise. Over the course of the next several months, defendants followed the standard procedures allowed by Wendy’s to oppose the new restaurant. At one point Wendy’s, using its own discretion, allowed for additional time for defendants to submit certain requests, but otherwise the normal course of action provided for in Wendy’s franchise guidelines was followed.

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In Bradley v. Ameristep, Inc., No. 1:12-cv-01196 (6th Cir. Aug. 24, 2015), plaintiff appealed a district court dismissal of his product liability claims regarding ratchet straps he had purchased and used to secure a hunting treestand. Plaintiff bought the straps in 2007 or 2008, used the straps to secure his treestand for less than two months in 2008, stored the straps inside for almost three years, then used the straps to secure his treestand again in May or June 2011. He did not use the treestand until September 2011, at which time he visually inspected the straps. After plaintiff claimed into the stand, the straps broke and caused plaintiff to fall.

Plaintiff retained two expert witnesses to support his claims, but the district court granted defendant’s motion to exclude both of these experts. Because the expert testimony was excluded, the district court “concluded that there was no evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims for strict product liability or negligent design and manufacture and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on those claims.” The district court also granted summary judgment as to the failure to warn claim, determining that plaintiff was aware of the dangers of leaving the straps exposed to the elements, that plaintiff would not have heeded a warning to use a safety harness, and that plaintiff failed to proffer an adequate alternative warning. Accordingly, all of plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed.

On appeal, the Court reversed the dismissal, and in doing so provided an informative summary of Tennessee product liability law. First, the Court addressed the exclusion of one of plaintiffs’ experts, noting that Fed. R. Evid. 702 “impose[s] a threshold requirement of qualification by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training or education,’ coupled with a two-part test for relevance…and reliability.” While the expert’s “qualifications contain[ed] numerous general attestations of expertise in materials analysis[,]” the district court focused on specific references to the expert’s metallurgical expertise to determine that he did not possess the necessary qualifications for this case. The Court of Appeals held that this was an error, pointing out that the proposed expert had “over thirty-five years of experience analyzing the forces and conditions that lead to product failures, “ that he had “served as an instructor in materials analysis and microscopic analysis” for multiple groups and organizations, and that he had conducted analysis on all types of polymer materials. Based on these qualifications, the expert testimony should have been allowed.

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently affirmed a refusal to dismiss a products liability case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens in Pantuso v. Wright Medical Tech. Inc., No. W2014-02135-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2015). Plaintiff in this case was a resident of Utah and had double hip replacement surgery in Utah. The replacement devices used in plaintiff were designed, manufactured and marketed by Wright Medical Technology, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Memphis, Tennessee, who was registered to do business in both Tennessee and Utah. Wright Medical Technology was a wholly owned subsidiary of Wright Medical Group, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Memphis, Tennessee, registered to do business in Tennessee. Both corporations were named as defendants.

According to the complaint, the device implanted into plaintiff was marketed as being suitable for patients with active lifestyles. Six years after the surgery, though, one of the replacement devices failed “suddenly and catastrophically” and had to be replaced. The other device made by Defendant remained in plaintiff, but he alleged that he had to modify his lifestyle based on the knowledge that it would not stand up to the active lifestyle it was marketed towards.

Plaintiff filed a product liability suit in Shelby County Circuit Court, and defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. According to defendants, Utah was the proper forum because plaintiff had received all of his medical treatment there. Defendants argued that they would “be prejudiced by proceeding in Tennessee because it would have ‘no access to any third-party witness or any third-party documents because they were all in Utah[.]’” In addition, defendants asserted that Utah was more appropriate because Utah law applied in this case and because the Shelby County courts were already overburdened. In response, plaintiff asserted that Shelby County was a proper forum, as the “crux of his complaint concerned not the medical treatment he received [in Utah], but the decisions made by Wright Medical concerning the manufacture, design, and marketing of the Profemur hip device, all of which occurred at Wright Medical’s Memphis office.” Plaintiff urged that the witnesses relevant to the core issues of the case were located in Tennessee, that the medical providers located in Utah could submit testimony by deposition, and that one of the two defendants was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Utah.

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In Evans v. Piedmont Natural Gas Co., Inc., No. M2014-01099-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2015), plaintiff asserted claims for property damage caused when sewage flowed into his home in 2013 allegedly due to a damaged sewer line. The undisputed facts in this case established that a gas line was installed on the relevant property in 1984 by Nashville Gas, that said gas line had not been repaired or serviced since 1984, and that no other “dig permits” had been issued for the property between 1980 and the 2013 sewage flooding. Plaintiff’s theory was that the sewage line was damaged during the gas line installation and that the gas company covered up the damage. The company who did the work in 1984 was Nashville Gas, which later merged into Piedmont Natural Gas Company, the named defendant.

Plaintiff in this case obtained a judgment in general sessions court, but on appeal to circuit court summary judgment was granted to defendant. As grounds for summary judgment, the trial court found that there was no evidence that the gas company “damaged the sewer line in question, repaired the sewer line in question or intentionally concealed any damage or repair[,]” that there was no proof that the alleged damage occurred during the gas line installation in 1984, and that there was no proof that the gas company “was ever aware of any damage to the sewer line at any time before 2013[.]” Further, the trial court found that the claim was barred by the four year statute of repose found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202, which applies to improvements to real property. Finally, the trial court overturned the award of punitive damages to plaintiff, stating there was “no factual or legal basis for punitive damages here.”

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The Court of Appeals recently addressed the issue of which claims a parent who is not the primary residential parent may bring when his or her child has been injured. In Neale B/N/F Russell v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, No. E2014-01334-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2015), a child was injured at an activity at defendant’s facility. The mother and father initially filed a joint action as next friends of the child, but they voluntarily dismissed that case and father subsequently filed alone. Father, as next friend of child, sought damages for permanent impairment, paint and suffering, medical expenses, and loss of earning capacity. Pursuant to the family’s parenting plan, father was not the primary residential parent.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that father lacked standing to bring the claims. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment, which the Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-105(b) states:

 In case the father and mother of the minor child are living apart and one parent has exclusive legal custody of the child, the parent with legal custody has the sole right to maintain an action for the expenses and the actual loss of service resulting from an injury to the child, except that the noncustodial parent in such case shall have a right to maintain or join an action brought under this section, for the expenses resulting from an injury to the minor child to the extent the noncustodial parent has paid those expenses.

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In Phillips v. Casey, No. E2014-01563-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 21, 2015) plaintiff’s late husband was a patient of defendant doctor. Sometime in 2011 or 2012, defendant diagnosed husband with angioedema. Defendant also diagnosed husband with hypertension and prescribed a medication to treat that condition. On April 2, 2012, husband had a bilateral tonsillectomy performed by another doctor, and husband died that evening. Plaintiff received a copy of the autopsy report on July 3, 2012, which listed the primary cause of death as angioedema. On April 2, 2013, plaintiff filed suit against defendant doctor and his employer alleging that doctor was negligent by prescribing medicine to husband known to aggravate angioedema and by failing to inform the doctor performing the tonsillectomy of husband’s condition.


Before filing her first health care liability claim, plaintiff did not send the statutorily required pre-suit notices to the two named defendants. Accordingly, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. While that motion was pending, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her claims without prejudice. Plaintiff then sent proper pre-suit notice that met all the statutory requirements and subsequently re-filed her suit. Defendants moved to dismiss again, asserting that plaintiff’s initial complaint was untimely and that she could thus not rely on the saving statute and that plaintiff could not re-file her suit in order to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but granted an interlocutory appeal to consider the following issue:


Whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 permits a plaintiff to take a voluntary nonsuit pursuant to Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 41.01 with a motion to dismiss pending, resend notice of intent to the providers, and then refile a new action within the original statute of limitations or in accordance with the savings statute.

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In Newcomb v. State, No. M2014-00804-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2015), the Court of Appeals affirmed the Tennessee Claims Commission’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s premises liability action. Plaintiff fell down a flight of stairs in front of a state owned building. It was raining on the day of the injury, and plaintiff asserted that she reached out for the handrail but that it was out of reach. She argued that the handrail started one stair down from the top and that the steps had no nonskid material, both of which made the stairway unsafe.

At the Claims Commission hearing, the State called two witnesses who worked in facility administration at the building to testify. Both witnesses stated that the steps were the main entrance to the building which was used frequently, that any problems with the steps would have been “quickly noticed and corrected,” and that there had been no prior incidents on the steps. Based on this evidence, the Claims Commissioner dismissed plaintiff’s case, concluding that she “failed to prove that the steps and handrail were a dangerous condition or that, assuming they were dangerous, the State knew or should have known that they constituted a dangerous condition.” The Court of Appeals affirmed.

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