Articles Posted in Tort Reform

The  Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered an issue of first impression in Tennessee—whether a plaintiff who sues an employee and employer for negligence can proceed on direct negligence claims against the employer after the employer admits that they are vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. After considering arguments both ways, the Court determined that in Tennessee, “an employer’s admission of vicarious liability does not bar a plaintiff from proceeding against the employer on independent claims of negligence.”

In Jones v. Windham, No. W2015-00973-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 11, 2016), employee, acting within the scope of her employment with a local daycare, was transporting kids in a van when she struck a minor child. The child’s mother, plaintiff, brought an action for negligence against employee, and also asserted claims for negligence per se, negligent hiring, and negligent retention against employers, as well as a claim for punitive damages against all the defendants. In their answer, employers conceded that they were vicariously liable for any negligence attributed to employee. Accordingly, employers moved for summary judgment on the direct negligence claims against them, arguing that Tennessee should adopt a rule adopted by other states “under which a plaintiff would be prevented from proceeding on any direct negligence claim against an employer once vicarious liability has been admitted.” The trial court granted summary judgment as to all direct negligence claims against the employer, though it denied summary judgment on the punitive damages claim. This Rule 10 appeal followed.

Continue reading

In a recent premises liability case, a Tennessee statute shielded the property owner from liability for a four-wheeler accident that occurred on his property. In McCaig v. Whitmore, No. W2015-00646-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2016), plaintiff and his family were attending a social gathering at defendant’s home, which consisted of around seven acres of land and a house. Defendant had ATVs, and took rides with plaintiff’s wife and son, giving them instructions about how to drive safely and what areas to avoid. Plaintiff “neither asked for nor received the same detailed instructions from [defendant].” While riding and following his wife, who was driving another ATV, plaintiff’s ATV flipped and landed on top of him, causing severe injuries.

Plaintiff filed a negligence suit, alleging that defendant was “liable to them for negligence as a result of failing to properly instruct [plaintiff] on how to operate the ATV and by failing to warn [plaintiff] of dangerous and concealed conditions on his property that were known to [defendant].” Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute (TRUS), Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101 et. seq., barred recovery by plaintiff. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that pursuant to the TRUS, defendant owed no duty to plaintiff, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 states:

  (a) The landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for such recreational activities as…off-road vehicle riding…and nor shall such landowner be required to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such land or premises to any person entering on such land or premises for such purposes, except as provided in § 70-7-104.

Continue reading

In late 2015, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the nuanced approach previously used to distinguish ordinary negligence from medical malpractice. In Ellithorpe v. Weismark, No. M2014-00279-SC-R11-CV, 2015 WL 5853872 (Tenn. Oct. 8, 2015), the Supreme Court held that the statutory definition of “health care liability act” contained in the amendments to the HCLA passed in 2011 statutorily abrogated the nuanced approach, and that the definition contained in the statute was now the only guidance a court should consider when determining whether a claim fell under the HCLA. This ruling greatly broadened the scope of cases falling under the HCLA, and a recent Court of Appeals case is a good illustration of the effect of the Ellithorpe holding.

In Osunde v. Delta Medical Center, No. W2015-01005-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2016), plaintiff sued defendant medical center after falling and sustaining a fibular fracture while getting an x-ray taken. Plaintiff went to the medical center complaining of ankle pain and was taken to radiology. There, the “radiology technician instructed [plaintiff] to stand up on a stool.” According to plaintiff, the stool was wooden and did not have rubber tips or handrails. When plaintiff was stepping off the stool, she fell. Plaintiff alleged that the stool was uneven and faulty.

Continue reading

A continued problem for HCLA plaintiffs seems to be complying with the requirement to provide a HIPAA authorization with their pre-suit notice. In Dolman v. Donovan, No. W2015-00392-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 23, 2015), another HCLA claim was dismissed due to the inadequacy of plaintiffs’ HIPAA authorizations.

Plaintiffs’ claims related to the treatment of their father at Methodist Hospital. In their suit, plaintiffs named two doctors, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Memphis Vascular Center, and Memphis Radiological, P.C. as defendants. In addition to the named defendants, pre-suit notice was served on an additional three parties—another doctor, Methodist Healthcare Germantown, and Mid-South Pulmonary Specialists. “The notice letters were accompanied by three Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare medical records authorizations forms. Substantively, the three authorizations were identical, but each was signed by a different [plaintiff].”

After suit was filed, defendants moved to dismiss, asserting that the authorizations did not comply with the HCLA statute in that they “only allow[ed] the release of records from Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare” and “did not enable them to obtain the records from ‘each provider being sent a notice’ as required by statute.” In response, plaintiffs argued that the HIPAA authorizations were compliant because they authorized the release of records from “Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare and its affiliates,” and that “the doctors and other named healthcare providers were ‘affiliates’ of Methodist….” Finding that the authorizations were not statutorily compliant, the trial court dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Continue reading

The medical community in Tennessee doesn’t want judges and juries to know how much money they make from testifying as expert witnesses.   So they have persuaded two members of the General Assembly to introduce legislation that applies not only to medical doctors but to every type of expert witness.

This is the substance of HB 1466:

Except for good cause shown and pursuant to court order, a party may not discover a statement of compensation that is paid to an expert witness for any study and testimony in a case.

The HIPAA release required by the Health Care Liability Act and the standards for HIPAA compliance continue to be a litigated issues in this evolving area of Tennessee law.

In Bray v. Khuri, No. W2015-00397-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 3, 2015), plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a patient who committed suicide while admitted to a hospital under defendant doctor’s care. Before filing suit, plaintiff sent a notice letter and a medical authorization form to defendant. Once plaintiff filed her complaint, defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff failed to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) because the authorization provided “did not include a description of the information to be used and it failed to identify which health care providers were authorized to make the requested disclosure.” Plaintiff opposed the motion to dismiss, asserting that she did not have to provide a HIPAA-compliant authorization since the only health care provider at issue was defendant, and that “the form she provided was not deficient when read in conjunction with the potential claim letter accompanying it.”  The trial court agreed with defendant, dismissing plaintiff’s claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The first issue on appeal was whether plaintiff was required to provide defendant with a HIPAA-compliant authorization when defendant “was the only medical provider being sent the notice of potential claim.” In support of her argument that no medical authorization was required here, plaintiff pointed to the language of the statute, which states that a plaintiff’s written notice “shall include…[a] HIPAA compliant medical authorization permitting the provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from each other provider being sent a notice.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). Plaintiff asserted that “the inclusion of the phrase ‘from each other provider’ signals that it is unnecessary to include an authorization when only one provider is receiving the notice because that provider already has all the relevant records in its possession.”

Continue reading

In early October, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided in Ellithorpe v. Weismark, 2015 WL 5853873 (Tenn. Oct. 8, 2015) that the statutory definition of “health care liability act” contained in the 2011 amendments to the HCLA abrogated the previously used nuanced approach for distinguishing between health care actions and common law negligence. In light of the broad language used in the statutory definition, the Ellithorpe decision made it highly unlikely that any negligence claim related to a health care professional would be deemed ordinary negligence, and litigants are now beginning to feel the effects of this opinion.


In Estate of Thibodeau v. St. Thomas Hospital, No. M2014-02030-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2015), plaintiff sued defendant hospital after she was injured when hospital employees failed to “properly support [her] as they attempted to transfer her from a bariatric stretcher to her automobile.” Plaintiff was on a road trip with her husband, and while in Nashville she began having arthritic knee pain. She was transported by ambulance to the hospital, and after being seen and discharged, she was assisted to her car by two registered nurses and a patient care technician. Plaintiff weighed almost 500 pounds, and the hospital employees worked with plaintiff and her husband to develop a plan to move her back to her vehicle while requiring her to stand as few times as possible because of her knee pain. The employees transferred plaintiff by bariatric stretcher to her waiting car, but when plaintiff was “near her vehicle and ready to come to a standing position, she fell and experienced the onset of ‘terrible pain’ in her left ankle.” She was then readmitted to the hospital and treated.

Continue reading

Several cases have now held that the 2011 amendments to the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA), which added language referring to governmental entities, allow plaintiffs bringing an HCLA claim under the GTLA to take advantage of the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations after giving proper pre-suit notice. Recently, though, a plaintiff whose claim arose before the enactment of this amendment tried to creatively argue that she too should be allowed the extra 120 days.

In Miller ex rel. Miller v. Cookeville Regional Med. Ctr., No. M2014-01917-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2015), plaintiff’s husband had died after being given an excessive dose of blood thinners. The husband died on May 18, 2010.   Plaintiff gave pre-suit notice on May 11, 2011, and then filed suit on September 8, 2011, one year and 113 days after the death. Upon motion by the defendant, the trial court dismissed the claim as untimely, relying on the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Cunningham v. Williamson County Hospital District, 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013). In Cunningham, the Supreme Court held that the HCLA as it existed prior to the 2011 amendments did not allow GTLA plaintiffs to take advantage of the 120-day statute of limitations extension.

In the present case, the Court noted that “the relevant date in determining whether the 2011 amendment to the HCLA applies to a case is the date on which the cause of action accrues.” Since the injury here occurred in May 2010, well before the October 1, 2011 enactment date of the 2011 amendment, “the statute of limitations was not extended by giving pre-suit notice[.]”

This week, the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008), “return[ing] to a summary judgment standard consistent with Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”

In Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, PLLC, No. W2013-00804-R11-CV (Oct. 26, 2015), plaintiff had Rh negative blood, and defendant failed to test and subsequently treat her with a specific injection during her third pregnancy. Because she was not treated, plaintiff became Rh-sensitized. The record contained extensive testimony regarding the risks to plaintiff and to any future pregnancies. Essentially, regarding future children, the evidence showed that if several contingencies occurred—“a future pregnancy, an Rh positive fetus, antibodies crossing the placenta—it [was] undisputed that the unborn fetus would face a number of risks, ranging from mild to severe.” Because plaintiff and her husband were Catholic, they asserted that they were limited in what steps they could take to avoid future pregnancies. Regarding the harm or risks to plaintiff herself, plaintiff’s own expert testified that the risk to her was that if she had an emergency situation and needed blood, the transfusion process could be longer because finding a match for sensitized blood could take more time.

Plaintiffs’ complaint asserted causes of action for health care liability, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) for both plaintiff and her husband, and disruption of family planning. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs had “no existing actual injuries or damages resulting from the deviation,” that plaintiffs had “failed to allege future injuries to a reasonable medical certainty,” and that plaintiffs did not properly support their NIED claims. The trial court granted summary judgment as to all claims “for future damages to [plaintiff] arising from blood transfusions or future pregnancies,” finding that those damages had “yet to be sustained” and were speculative. The trial court also granted summary judgment on husband’s NIED claim, as he had not suffered physical injury and had not offered the required expert proof for an emotional distress action. Finally, the trial court granted summary judgment as to plaintiff’s “independent cause of action for disruption of family planning,” finding that Tennessee did not recognize such a claim. The court, however, denied summary judgment on plaintiff wife’s NIED claim, ruling that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the change in her blood constituted a physical injury and also holding that she would be allowed to present evidence regarding how her family plans had changed as an element of her damages.

Continue reading

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutionality of the artifical cap on non-economic damages in tort cases should not be examined by the courts until after a plaintiff receives a verdict in excess of the cap.

The decision comes in the Clark case out of Chattanooga.   The trial judge in that case ruled that the caps were unconstitutional.  Tennesssee’s High Court said the ruling was premature.  The Order can be reviewed by clicking on the link below

From a practical standpoint, this means that a supreme court review of the caps is at least two years off.  Why?  Because that is how long it takes, on average, from a verdict to go through the entire appellate process.   It is possible that a case with a verdict over the caps is in the pipeline right now but I have not heard of such a pending case.   Please let me know via a comment if you are aware of one.