Minor Can Recover Medical Expenses

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that a minor can sue to recover medical expenses paid to treat injuries received by the minor as a result of the negligence of another.  Although most of us (at least those of us who represent plaintiffs) have thought this was probably the law, it is nice to see an opinion from this century addressing the issue directly.

Here is the entire section of the opinion on the subject that addresses this important issue:

"As a final matter, Defendant contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of
Plaintiff’s pre-majority medical expenses since a minor does not having standing to assert a claim for expenses incurred on his behalf and Mrs. Craig was not a party to the suit. Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-105 provides that a claim for medical expenses incurred by a minor during his or her minority does not belong to the minor, but rather to the minor’s parents. See also Burke v. Ellis, 58 S.W. 855, 857 (Tenn.1900). However, in Smith v. King, No. Civ.A. 958, 1984 WL  586817, at *2 (Tenn.Ct.App. Sept. 21, 1984), the court addressed a substantially similar issue and determined that a minor plaintiff may maintain his or her own cause of action for medical expenses and include the amount of medical expenses incurred on behalf of the minor as an element of his or her damages.

In Smith, Barbara Ellen Smith, a minor, by and through her parents as next friends, sued
defendant for personal injuries received when the school bus in which she was a passenger was
struck by defendant’s vehicle. Smith, 1984 WL 586817, at *1. Because the suit was filed more than a year after the accident, the parent’s cause of action for pre-majority medical expenses was barred by the statute of limitations. Smith, 1984 WL 586817, at *1. Instead of precluding any recovery for the minor’s pre-majority medical expenses, the court adopted the waiver rule and held that “a child under circumstances where the parent has acted as next friend may maintain an action for his medical expenses provided that [the parent] has paid for them…or is legally obligated to pay them.” Smith, 1984 WL 586817, at *2. The court reasoned that pursuant to the waiver rule, “the parent by bringing the suit on behalf of the minor has waived any claim that he might have” thereby eliminating the concern of double recoveries for pre-majority medical expenses. Smith, 1984 WL 586817, at *2.

Applying the holding in Smith, we find that Plaintiff could properly maintain his own action for pre-majority medical expenses incurred or likely to be incurred by Mrs. Craig on his behalf and
thus the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Plaintiff’s pre-majority medical expenses. Since the jury awarded Plaintiff $300,000.00 in pre-majority economic damages, Mrs. Craig i precluded from any further individual recovery under the waiver rule enunciated in Smith."

The case is Palanki v. Vanderbilt University , No. M2005-02220-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov 13, 2006).  Read it here.