Woodruff v. Walker, No. W2016-01895-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 26, 2017) is anHCLA case that addressed the timeliness of plaintiffs’ claims.

Plaintiffs, a mother and child, filed suit alleging that “both plaintiffs suffered permanent injuries resulting from the defendant health care providers’ negligent care during the child’s birth in June 2012.” Mother suffered from a neuromuscular condition both before and during her pregnancy, which necessitated various treatments during her pregnancy, including treatment with a maternal fetal medicine specialist. The specialist met with mother five times during her pregnancy. Approximately three weeks before she delivered, mother was admitted to the hospital “with exacerbated symptoms” of her neuromuscular condition, where she stayed for approximately six days.

When mother eventually went into labor, she was admitted to the hospital around 3:42 a.m. She was monitored, given Pitocin, and eventually given small doses of an epidural. The medical team eventually determined that mother’s “exacerbated” symptoms of her condition “made it unsafe to continue the labor and deliver the child vaginally.” Mother’s oxygen was low, and she reported trouble breathing, but one defendant doctor “insisted on doing a vaginal exam” before the caesarian section. During this exam, “Mother stopped breathing and went into respiratory and cardiac arrest.” An emergency c-section was performed, and mother and child both suffered “serious permanent injuries and brain damage resulting from the lack of oxygen during the delivery.”

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In Stockton v. Ford Motor Co., No. W2016-01175-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 12, 2017), the  Court of Appeals vacated a jury verdict in a Tennessee products liability case due to a defective jury verdict form.

Plaintiff was the wife of an auto mechanic who owned his own shop. Husband worked on all types of cars, including cars made by defendant Ford. It was undisputed that for a period of time, all car manufacturers, including Ford, used asbestos in their brake pads and linings. When brake pads and linings are replaced and/or grinded to the correct size, a dust is created, and the dust “can spread into the air and can be inhaled by mechanics and bystanders.” Plaintiff wife never worked directly with the brake pads or linings, but she cleaned the store twice a week and did her husband’s laundry. In 2011, plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which was caused by exposure to asbestos.

Plaintiff filed this products liability suit against Ford seeking compensatory and punitive damages. During a jury trial, Ford pointed out that it had sent husband “warnings that brakes and other components contained asbestos,” and that husband had received training in 1977 and 1982 “explicitly warning that breathing dust from asbestos-containing automobile products could be hazardous…” The jury found Ford 71% at fault for plaintiff’s injuries, and plaintiff was awarded a total judgment of just over $3 million, which Ford appealed.

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In an important turn in medical malpractice (now know as health care liability) law, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that “a prospective plaintiff who provides pre-suit notice to one potential defendant is not required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) to provide the single potential defendant with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization.”

In Bray v. Khuri, No. W2015 -00397-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. July 5, 2017), plaintiff filed an HCLA claim against a single physician under whose care her husband was at the time he committed suicide. Prior to filing suit, plaintiff sent pre-suit notice to the single defendant, including a medical authorization signed by plaintiff.

After the complaint was filed, defendant moved to dismiss based on the medical authorization not being HIPAA compliant. The trial court granted the dismissal, ruling that the lack of a HIPAA compliant authorization meant that defendant “could not use [decedent’s] records to prepare a defense,” and that the fact that there was a single defendant was “not determinative.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, but the Supreme Court reversed.

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In Vaughn v. Methodist Hospital Staff & Administration, No. W2016-00422-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a slander claim due to the six-month statute of limitations.

Plaintiff, who was proceeding pro se, originally filed her action in general sessions court for “libel/slander/defamation of character…” on July 15, 2014. In court, she testified that her claims were all based on statements made on July 17, 2013. The general sessions court dismissed the case pursuant to the six-month statute of limitations, and the circuit court subsequently granted a motion for summary judgment on the same grounds, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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In Higgs v. Green, No. M2016-01369-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 11, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict for defendant in a car accident case.

Plaintiff and defendant were involved in a two-car accident in Brentwood. “The accident occurred as Defendant was making a left-hand turn across Plaintiff’s lane of traffic to enter a gas station when the front of Plaintiff’s vehicle collided with the rear quadrant of the passenger’s side of Defendant’s vehicle.” Plaintiff alleged in her complaint that the accident was due to defendant’s failure to yield, failure to keep a proper lookout, failure to keep his car under control, and turning without making sure it was safe to do so. Further, plaintiff cited four statutes that she alleged defendant violated, asserting that defendant had thus committed negligence per se.

The jury returned a verdict finding plaintiff 75% at fault and defendant 25% at fault, and judgment was thus entered for defendant. Plaintiff moved for a new trial, which the trial court denied, and this appeal followed. On appeal, plaintiff presented two issues, one dealing with the exclusion of certain testimony from a police officer and one dealing with potential juror misconduct.

During the trial, but while the jury was not present, the investigating officer who plaintiff planned to call as a witness was questioned. The officer testified that “he had no independent recollection of the accident other than what was written in his police report and the police report did not indicate that Defendant had crossed a double-yellow line when he made his left turn to cross Plaintiff’s lane of traffic.” The officer further testified that defendant was not issued a citation after the accident. Despite these admissions, the officer stated that he was familiar with the area and that “there was a double-yellow line” where the accident occurred, that the double-yellow line would indicate “a continuation of a median,” and that it was illegal to turn across a median.

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In J. Alexander’s Holdings, LLC v. Republic Services, Inc., No. M2016-01526-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 12, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal based on the ground of forum non conveniens.

Plaintiff restaurant had contracted with defendant for waste removal at some of its locations. The incident from which this case arose happened at a restaurant in Livonia, Michigan, where “in the process of retrieving the dumpster” at plaintiff’s restaurant location a driver for defendant allegedly hit the restaurant and caused damage.  Total damages?  $13,800 (plus attorneys’ fees and costs).

Plaintiff filed its complaint in the Davidson County General Sessions Court in Tennessee for breach of contract and negligence. Defendant moved for dismissal based on improper venue, which the sessions court granted. Plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, where the case was eventually dismissed based on improper venue and forum non conveniens. This appeal followed.

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In Zink v. Rural/Metro of Tennessee, L.P., No. E2016-01581-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 2, 2017), the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff’s allegations fell within the HCLA, but that no certificate of good faith was required because the claimed negligence was “subject to the common knowledge exception.”

In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendant EMT “’negligently and carelessly’ struck [plaintiff] in the face with his fist.” Plaintiff asserted that he was strapped to a gurney at the time, and that defendant “assaulted and battered him, using excessive force.” Further, plaintiff claimed that defendant’s actions caused him permanent injury and medical expenses. Plaintiff brought this action for negligence against defendant EMT and his employer.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff’s claims were subject to the HCLA and that plaintiff did not follow the procedural requirements of the statute. The trial court granted the motion, dismissing plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice due to his failure to file a certificate of good faith pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122. The trial court rejected plaintiff’s argument that no certificate of good faith was needed because his allegations fell within the common knowledge exception to the expert testimony requirement. On appeal, however, this decision was reversed.

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In Lacy v. Saint Thomas Hospital West, No. M2016-01272-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 4, 2017), a pro se plaintiff brought a claim against several medical providers, alleging that she was “beaten during medical procedures.” Plaintiff did not give pre-suit notice or file a certificate of good faith, and the defendants accordingly moved to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff’s claims were covered by the HCLA. The trial court dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed a portion of this ruling, holding that some of plaintiff’s claims did not fall under the HCLA and were thus not subject to its procedural requirement.            Plaintiff’s claims related to two separate incidents. In the first, she alleged that a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital “committed the offense of assault and battery by beating, electrocuting, and burning her while she was undergoing medical testing.” Plaintiff asserted that her hands were burned and she suffered an overdose of electrical current, and that after the shock the doctor “physically beat her…[by] hitting her four times on the front part of her right shoulder.” The second incident concerned an MRI, which plaintiff alleged was too hot and burned her. She also claimed that the individual administering the MRI beat her on the left shoulder while positioning her, and that after the test he “took her medical file and beat her from head to ankle up and down never saying a word.” She further alleged that an MRI technician “beat her left leg four times causing bruising.”

Plaintiff’s claims related to two separate incidents. In the first, she alleged that a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital “committed the offense of assault and battery by beating, electrocuting, and burning her while she was undergoing medical testing.” Plaintiff asserted that her hands were burned and she suffered an overdose of electrical current, and that after the shock the doctor “physically beat her…[by] hitting her four times on the front part of her right shoulder.” The second incident concerned an MRI, which plaintiff alleged was too hot and burned her. She also claimed that the individual administering the MRI beat her on the left shoulder while positioning her, and that after the test he “took her medical file and beat her from head to ankle up and down never saying a word.” She further alleged that an MRI technician “beat her left leg four times causing bruising.”

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In a recent negligence case, the Court of Appeals vacated summary judgment due to the trial court’s failure to explain the basis upon which summary judgment was granted, and it remanded the case with directions for an order that met the standards of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04 to be entered.

In Koczera v. Steele, No. E2015-02508-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 28, 2017), plaintiffs had previously filed an HCLA suit against several defendants, including Dr. O’Connor and Oak Ridge Urology Associates (ORUA). Christi Steele was the office manager at ORUA, and she “was served with Dr. O’Connor’s process and gave the complaint and summons to another doctor, who gave them to Dr. O’Connor.” Dr. O’Connor was eventually dismissed from the HCLA suit on the basis that “Ms. Steele was not authorized to accept service of process on his behalf.”

Plaintiffs subsequently filed this case against Ms. Steele, the doctor to whom Ms. Steele gave Dr. O’Connor’s process, ORUA, Tennessee Urology Associates PLLC, and Tennessee Urology Associates PLLC d/b/a Oak Ridge Urology Associates. In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that “the negligence and negligent misrepresentation of those parties prevented Dr. O’Connor from being properly served and resulted in his dismissal from the [original] suit.”

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In West v. Epiphany Salon & Day Spa, LLC, No. E2016-01860-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 25, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed a large remittitur in a negligence case, reducing the jury’s award by over 61%.

Plaintiff had gone to defendant salon for a facial treatment in 2012. According to her testimony, her “face began burning upon application of the treatment” and she “rushed home in pain.” She filed this negligence action, alleging that her face never recovered from the treatment.

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