Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

In Clark v. Werther, No. M2014-00844-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that nothing about the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA)  certificate of good faith requirement prohibited a plaintiff from taking a TRCP Rule 41 voluntary nonsuit while a motion to dismiss was pending.

Here, a pro se plaintiff filed a health care liability suit against fourteen healthcare providers. When filing his complaint, however, he failed to attach a certificate of good faith as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122. Several of the defendants filed motions to dismiss on this basis. In response, and before any hearing on the motions to dismiss, plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit and proposed order. Some of the defendants “opposed [plaintiff’s] notice of nonsuit on the ground that his complaint should be dismissed with prejudice because of the missing certificate of good faith,” as that is the appropriate penalty under the statute. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed without prejudice the claims against the non-objecting defendants, but dismissed with prejudice the claims against the defendants who objected to the nonsuit.

On appeal, the Court noted that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.01 governs voluntary nonsuits and precludes a nonsuit in certain situations, including “in a class action case, in a shareholder derivative action, in a case in which a receiver has been appointed, or while an opposing party’s motion for summary judgment is pending,” or “when it would deprive the defendant of some vested right.” (citation omitted). Otherwise, a plaintiff’s ability to take a voluntary nonsuit is “free and unrestricted…before the jury retires.” (citation omitted).

In Newman v. Guardian Healthcare Providers, Inc., No. M2015-01315-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of a medical malpractice (now known as a “health care liability” or “HCLA”) claim because the plaintiff failed to file a certificate of good faith, and expert testimony was required in the case.

Plaintiff sued various companies that provided nursing and medical staff to a psychiatric facility. According to the complaint, plaintiff’s husband, who was a patient and resident at the facility, sustained life-ending injuries when he was attacked by another resident. Plaintiff alleged that defendants were negligence because her husband, who died, was supposed to have one-to-one care and supposed to have a wheelchair, yet had neither. She also alleged that the attacker was supposed to have one-to-one care and was known to be violent, and that defendants failed to take measures to protect the patients from the attacker.

When plaintiff filed her complaint, she did not give pre-suit notice or attach a certificate of good faith to her complaint, as required by the HCLA. At the time of this appeal, it was uncontested that this claim fell under the HCLA.

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In Denton v. Taylor, No. E2015-01726-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a car accident case because “plaintiff provided no evidence establishing that the decedent’s negligence caused the accident.”

Plaintiff and the decedent, whose wife was the defendant here, were involved in a car accident in March 2013. Plaintiff could not remember anything about the accident, and the other driver was pronounced dead at the scene. In March 2014, plaintiff filed this negligence action.

Defendant moved for summary judgment fifteen months after the complaint was filed, submitting an affidavit from a sheriff’s deputy who stated that there were no witnesses to the accident and that a review of photographs and other evidence “was not able to determine the point of impact.” Defendant argued that plaintiff could not show that decedent’s alleged negligence had caused the accident. Plaintiff responded, relying on the post-mortem toxicology results that showed that decedent had hydrocodone and hydromorphone in his system.

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The Court of Appeals recently examined whether the sickness and death of a lawyer’s child constituted extraordinary cause under the HCLA, finding that it did in fact excuse noncompliance with the statute.

In Kirby v. Sumner Regional Medical Center, No. M2015-01181-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 12, 2016), plaintiff was treated at the defendant hospital in June 2013, and plaintiff alleged that the treatment she received fell short of the required standard of care. Well before the one-year statute of limitations, on January 31, 2014, plaintiff’s counsel sent a fax to defendant regarding the claim. No other correspondence was sent, but on the day the one-year statute of limitations was to expire, plaintiff filed suit. Plaintiff attached a certificate of good faith to her complaint, but she admittedly had not served the statutorily required pre-suit notice with attached HIPAA release.

Defendant moved to dismiss the case based on the lack of pre-suit notice. In response, plaintiff’s counsel pointed out that his son was born on March 6, 2014, and subsequently died on June 20, 2014, just days before the statute of limitations was set to expire on this claim. Counsel stated that “[f]or the few months my son lived, there were frequent periodic indications that each day could be his last, including a few serious hospitalizations.” In his memorandum opposing dismissal, plaintiff’s counsel asserted:

In Boshears v. Brooks, No. E2015-01915-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 6, 2016), plaintiff asserted on appeal that the trial judge had given incorrect jury instructions in the underlying jury trial. The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed.

Plaintiff was riding in a car with his girlfriend when they were hit by a vehicle driven by defendant. Defendant was 78-years-old and blind in one eye, and he had been to his doctor that day to report blurry vision. His doctor had referred him to the ER, and the accident occurred after defendant had been released from the ER. Defendant’s theory at trial was that he had a stroke while driving, “which resulted in an unforeseeable loss of consciousness leading to the accident.” Defendant presented expert testimony supporting his theory of the case. Plaintiff, on the other hand, attempted to show that defendant “had suffered vision problems for years, and that, essentially, he had no business driving on the day of the accident.” Plaintiff “attempted to cast doubt on whether [defendant] had been unconscious during the accident,” and witness statements regarding defendant’s condition after the wreck varied.

While charging the jury, the trial court included instructions on both sudden emergency and loss of consciousness. The jury instructions included the following:

…A person faced with a sudden emergency is required to act as a reasonably careful person placed in a similar position. A sudden emergency will not excuse the actions of a person whose own negligence created the emergency.

If you find there was a sudden emergency that was not caused by any fault of the person whose actions you are judging, you must consider this factor in determining and comparing fault.

A sudden loss of consciousness or physical incapacity experienced while driving which is not reasonably foreseeable is a defense to a negligent action. …To constitute a defense, the defendant must establish that the sudden loss of consciousness or physical capacity was not reasonably foreseeable to a prudent person…

After deliberation, the jury found defendant not at fault for the accident.

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Tennessee law requires that personal injury cases for minors be approved by the court.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-34-105 provides:

(a) Notwithstanding any other law or rule to the contrary, a judge or chancellor may sign an order approving any tort claim settlement involving a minor that is less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) by relying on affidavits from the legal guardian. The court shall conduct a chambers hearing at which the minor and legal guardian are present to approve any tort claim settlement involving a minor that is ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more.

In Commercial Painting Co., Inc. v. The Weitz Co., LLC, No. W2013-01989-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2016), the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment on claims for negligent and intentional misrepresentation.

Plaintiff was a drywall subcontractor, and defendant was a general contractor with whom plaintiff had entered into an agreement to perform work on a construction project. According to the complaint, plaintiff alleged that:

  • Defendant had revised the project schedule with the project owner to show that a longer construction timeline was needed, yet the “out-of-date and erroneous schedule” was used when negotiating with plaintiff;

Understanding medical billing and medical expenses can be quite difficult in today’s healthcare system, and courts across the country have been grappling with how to determine the reasonable amount of medical expenses in court cases. In a recent Tennessee case, the Court of Appeals declined to extend a Tennessee Supreme Court decision which held that reasonable medical expenses were those that the medical provider actually accepted as payment from an insurance company, as the Supreme Court decision was a hospital lien case and the Court of Appeals was reviewing a personal injury matter.


The underlying facts in Dedmon v. Steelman, No. W2015-01462-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2016) were that plaintiff was seeking recovery for injuries sustained in a car accident. Plaintiff claimed medical expenses of $52,482.87, and plaintiff provided medical bills and the deposition of a treating physician who testified that the expenses were “appropriate, reasonable, and necessary[.]”


After this suit was filed, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a decision in a case about hospital liens, West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014). Tennessee law gives hospitals a lien “for all reasonable and necessary charges for hospital care, treatment and maintenance of ill or injured persons[.]” The West court tackled the issue of what exactly constituted reasonable charges, in light of the fact that the amount a patient is billed and the amount an insurance company actually pays is often vastly different. The Court in West eventually determined that, “with regard to an insurance company’s customers,” reasonable expenses were “the charges agreed to by the insurance company and the hospital,” not the billed amount. The Court stated:

The hospital’s non-discounted charges reflected in the amount of the liens it filed against the plaintiffs should not be considered reasonable charges for the purpose of [the Hospital Lien Act] for two reasons. First, the amount of these charges is unreasonable because it does not ‘reflect what is [actually] being paid in the market place.’ …[A] more realistic standard is what insurers actually pay and what the hospitals [are] willing to accept.’ …The second basis for concluding that the [hospital’s] non-discounted charges are not reasonable stems from its contracts with [the insurers]. The [hospital] furthered its own economic interest when it agreed in these contracts to discount its charges for patients insured by [the insurers]. …The [hospital’s] contract with [the insurers] defined what the reasonable charges for the medical services provided to [the plaintiffs] would be.

(Internal citations and quotations omitted).

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In Caldwell v. Baptist Memorial Hosp., No. W2015-01076-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 3, 2016), the Court of Appeals held that the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act’s allowance for ex parte interviews between defendant and plaintiff’s health care providers was not preempted by HIPAA and was permissible under the federal law.

In this case, plaintiff filed an HCLA claim against multiple defendants, and one defendant “filed a petition for a qualified protective order (QPO) pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(f) to allow ‘the defendant and his attorneys the right to obtain protected health information during interviews, outside the presence of claimant or claimant’s counsel, with the patient’s treating healthcare providers.’” While plaintiff acknowledged that defendant had complied with the statutory requirements under Tennessee law, she asserted that HIPAA preempted this Tennessee law and that the interviews should thus not be allowed. The trial court denied the defendant’s request for QPOs, and the defendant appealed.

On the state level, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(f) “allows for the disclosure of protected health care information in ex parte interviews conducted during judicial proceedings,” provided certain conditions are met. The statute requires that the petition identify the healthcare provider to be interviewed; that the plaintiff can object based on the provider not possessing relevant information; that the QPO “shall expressly limit the dissemination of any protected health information to the litigation pending before the court and require the defendant or defendants who conducted the interviews to return…or destroy any protected health information obtained…at the end of the litigation;” and that the QPO must state that participation in the interview is voluntary.

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In Omni Ins. Co. v. Nickoloff, No. E2015-01450-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s finding of negligence when a vehicle struck a pedestrian walking on a sidewalk.  Specifically, it was asserted that plaintiff  was walking west on a sidewalk at 10:40 p.m., and defendant was driving west on the road beside the sidewalk. Defendant’s vehicle hit plaintiff, and plaintiff asserted that defendant was liable on the theories of negligence and negligence per se, “due to his violation of Tennessee Code Annotated 55-8-136, which provides in pertinent part that ‘every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway.’”

After a bench trial, the trial court found defendant liable. In its order, the trial court stated: “There was an automobile collision… Plaintiff’’s insured…was walking on the sidewalk. Defendant…acknowledged that he hit [plaintiff] with his vehicle.” Defendant appealed and submitted a statement of the evidence, which was “approved by the trial court as a true and accurate record of the proceedings” and received no objection by plaintiff. The statement of evidence provided only that:

  • Plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk;