In a health care liability action, a plaintiff must show not only that the defendant breached the standard of care, but that such breach proximately caused the injury in question. Further, that causation testimony cannot come from a nurse.

In Estate of Sample v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc., No. E2017-00687-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2017), plaintiff filed an HCLA claim after decedent died while in the care of defendant nursing home. The complaint alleged that “per medical orders, Deceased was not to be left lying flat in bed,” and that “on the day of her death, Deceased had been lying flat in bed causing her to suffocate or aspirate and die.”

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment supported in part by the affidavit of Bethany Dragnett, a registered nurse who was one of decedent’s care takers at the home, and plaintiff’s responses to requests for admission. In the discovery responses, plaintiff “admitted that Deceased’s death certificate expressly identifies [arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease] as the sole cause of Evelyn Sample’s death,” that decedent suffered from this cardiovascular disease and from congestive heart failure prior to her death, that the “death certificate does not mention the word “aspiration,” and that no autopsy was requested after the death. In addition, the nurse stated in an affidavit that in her opinion “none of the nurses or certified nursing assistants at Life Care breached the standard of care with regard to the care provided to Deceased.” The nurse further stated that “she never found Deceased lying flat in bed with the feeding tube on” and that when she was called into the room on the day of death, decedent was “sitting in a wheelchair not breathing.”

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A conviction in a criminal case, even if a post-conviction appeal is pending, does not satisfy the element of a “prior action [being] finally terminated in favor of plaintiff” for the purpose of a malicious prosecution claim.

In Moffitt v. McPeake, No. W2016-01706-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 10, 2017), plaintiff had been convicted of aggravated assault against the three defendants in a previous criminal case on July 31, 2014. On appeal, his conviction was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and plaintiff pointed out in arguments to the trial court that he had a “pending post-conviction appeal.”

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The trial court ruled that the limitations period began to run when plaintiff was arrested on May 16, 2013, and that his July 27, 2015 suit was thus untimely. The Court of Appeals rejected this ground for dismissal but affirmed on other grounds.

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Although the issue rarely arises, the statute of limitations on a claim does not begin to run until there is a person who can properly bring the action.

In In re Estate of Link, No. M2016-002002-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2017), John Clemmons had been appointed administrator of the Link Estate in 2003, and he served for ten years. Although the order appointing Mr. Clemmons required him to file an annual inventory and accounting, he filed one in 2004 and then never filed another. In 2013, Mr. Clemmons was removed as administrator and replaced by the plaintiff who filed this action. Seven months after his removal, Mr. Clemmons plead guilty to stealing over $770,000 from the Link Estate.

Plaintiff brought this suit in his capacity as administrator against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Plaintiff alleged that defendant’s “employees in the Probate Court Clerk’s office had been a cause of the Estate’s damages through their negligent failure to monitor Mr. Clemmons.” Plaintiff pointed to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-602, which requires the Court Clerk “to cite the personal administrator for failing to carry out his or her administrative duties.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that the claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations and by the fact that plaintiff had already gotten a default judgment against Mr. Clemmons for the full amount of the damages. The trial court granted summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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A temporary order granting a guardianship that had apparently expired by the time of the injury at issue does not meet the standard for proving that an injured party had been “adjudicated incompetent” for the purpose of tolling a statute of limitations.

In Caudill v. Clarksville Health System, GP, No. M2016-02532-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2017), the facts of the matter were not in dispute. Plaintiff and her sister had filed an “emergency petition for the appointment of a guardian for their father” in an Oklahoma court based on the father’s “dementia and mental illness.” On August 27, 2013, that petition was granted and an emergency order was entered finding that “irreparable harm would be done to Decedent if the petition were not granted.” The order was set for review on September 25, 2013, and on October 2, 2013, plaintiff and her sister appeared before the court. The minutes of that hearing indicate that “the emergency guardianship will remain in full force and effect until further orders of the court…,” but no order was ever entered after this hearing.

After these hearings, the father moved to Tennessee, where he was admitted to defendant hospital on March 19, 2014. He was discharged on March 24th, and plaintiff alleged that he suffered sores and ulcers while in the hospital that eventually led to his death on May 24, 2014.

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When relying on vicarious liability in an HCLA (formerly known as medical malpractice or medical negligence) case, a plaintiff must identify the standard of care for a specific agent of the defendant and how that agent deviated from the standard of care.

In Miller v. Vanderbilt University, No. M2015-02223-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2017), plaintiff was in a motorcycle accident and sustained several serious injuries. He was taken to defendant hospital for treatment, where he had three surgeries, the last being a surgery on his right knee and left foot on November 2, 2010. Plaintiff was discharged from the hospital on November 5th, but two days later he came to the ER with “fever, nausea, blurred vision, and severe pain in his right leg.” His right knee incision had become infected, and his leg was eventually amputated above the knee.

Plaintiff filed this HCLA case for compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff alleged that defendant “failed to recognize and investigate the signs of infection that [plaintiff] exhibited before his discharge,” and that “he was negligently and recklessly discharged from the hospital.” At the close of plaintiff’s proof at trial, defendant moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court first granted as to punitive damages and then granted as to all claims. The trial court found that “plaintiff failed to establish, through expert medical testimony, the standard of care applicable to a specific agent of Vanderbilt, how that agent had deviated from the standard of are, and that deviation had caused an injury that otherwise would not have occurred, as required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-115.” On appeal, the directed verdict was affirmed.

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In a legal malpractice case, a plaintiff must usually present expert testimony regarding the standard of care and causation.

In Franklin-Murray Development Company, L.P. v. Shumacker Thompson, PC, No. M2015-01968-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2017), plaintiff sued defendant attorneys who had represented plaintiff in litigation related to a commercial real estate deal. In the underlying matter, plaintiff had contracted with First American Trust Company (FATC) to purchase property in Williamson County, giving FATC $100,000 in earnest money. Another $100,000 in earnest money was due “on the first business day after the last day on which [plaintiff had] a right to terminate the contract.” Just before the scheduled closing date, plaintiff found out there was a federal estate tax lien on the property, and so the sale did not close. Plaintiff “did not terminate the agreement in accordance with the termination provision, nor did it seek a refund of the earnest money previously paid or pay FATC the additional $100,000 in earnest money. Rather, [plaintiff] contacted FATC regarding the possibility of setting a new closing date.” Negotiations eventually broke down between the parties, and FATC filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the lien did not prevent conveyance of good title and for $200,000 in liquidated damages.

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Showing reliance in a fraud case does not require magic words during a plaintiff’s testimony. In Erwin v. Great River Road Supercross LLC, No. W2017-00150-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 19, 2017), plaintiffs sued defendants based on a real estate purchase. Defendants had provided a warranty deed to plaintiffs that “specifically warranted against encumbrances,” but the property was actually subject to a $20,000 mortgage, which was not paid off at the time of closing. As part of this suit, plaintiffs alleged that this misrepresentation constituted fraud.

The trial court found that “[t]here was indeed an intentional misrepresentation made that the real property was unencumbered,” but it held that plaintiffs had not established the required element of reliance. The trial court found that “[o]ne Plaintiff testified that he did not rely on the unencumbered language in the deed when making the decision to purchase the property” and held that the claim failed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed this decision and remanded the intentional misrepresentation claim for further proceedings. The Court reviewed the plaintiff in question’s testimony, and noted that he stated that the warranty deed specifically said the property was unencumbered, that the property was in fact encumbered by a mortgage, and that he did not know about the mortgage until after the purchase had taken place and he received a foreclosure notice. The Court held:

Where plaintiff failed to have service issued for over a year against the defendant driver in a car accident case, her claim against her uninsured motorist insurance carrier was barred.

In Davis v. Grange Mutual Casualty Group, No. M2016-02239-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2017), plaintiff filed suit on March 20, 2015 after a car accident, naming both the defendant driver and her uninsured motorist carrier. The suit was filed within the one-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions, but plaintiff “did not cause a summons to issue to either defendant” until April 19, 2016, which was thirteen months after the complaint was filed. The summons was issued to the driver at his last known address and was returned unserved on April 21st by the sheriff with a notation that the driver was “not to be found in my county.”

On April 25th, “the trial court sua sponte dismissed the action for failure to prosecute.” Plaintiff filed a motion to set the dismissal aside on May 24th, and on the same day process for the insurance company was returned unserved. Second summonses were issued for both defendants on June 6th and 7th, and the driver’s was returned unserved indicating that he had died.

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Where a defendant knew of decedent’s past suicide attempt, knew she was suffering from depression, and knew he had just ended his relationship with her, the trial court was wrong to grant summary judgment on a negligence case related to him showing her an unsecured gun in his home to which she had access.

In In re Estate of Cotten, No. M2016-02402-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2017), the personal representative of decedent’s estate brought suit against defendant for negligence based on “the defendant’s alleged acts of displaying and failing to properly store and prevent accessibility to the firearm with which decedent ultimately committed suicide.” Decedent was married and had a son when she met and began an affair with defendant. Decedent was a nurse at Skyline Hospital, and defendant was a psychiatrist there. Decedent divorced her husband in 2012, but she retained equal co-parenting time of her son. Two years after beginning the relationship, decedent moved in with defendant, at which time defendant admitted “observ[ing] that Decedent suffered crying spells and appeared to struggle with the loss of her job and eviction from her previous residence.” Decedent began seeing another psychiatrist at the hospital and was given medication for depression. Defendant was aware of decedent’s treatment.

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The statute of limitations for a claim falling under the GTLA is one year. In Thigpen v. Trousdale County Highway Department, No. M2016-02556-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 19, 2017), a pro se plaintiff filed suit against the highway department and two individuals claiming that they damaged his home while using equipment to resurface a nearby road. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Because the highway department was a governmental entity, this suit fell under the GTLA. Immunity was waived because the GTLA provides that governmental entities may be sued “for injuries resulting from the negligent operation by any employee of a motor vehicle or other equipment while in the scope of employment.” (Tenn. Code Ann. 29-20-202(a)). The GTLA also provides, however, that any action must be brought within one-year of the cause of action accruing. Here, the alleged damage occurred three years before the complaint was filed. Dismissal was accordingly affirmed.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed dismissal of the two individuals named in the complaint, noting that “the GTLA prohibits claims for damages against governmental employees when governmental immunity has been waived,” and that “the complaint does not allege that the individuals acted in an intentional matter or outside the scope of their employment.”