In Keane v. Campbell, No. M2016-00367-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendants in a negligence case revolving around the collapse of a deck.

Plaintiff was teenager who attended a party at defendants’ home. The party was for high school students, and between 40 and 70 kids attended. During the party, the kids were “dancing and jumping on an elevated, wooden deck attached to Defendants’ house” when the deck collapsed suddenly, and plaintiff fell and was injured. Within one year of plaintiff turning 18, she and her parents filed a negligence suit against defendants, asserting that “Defendants: (1) failed to properly and adequately monitor or supervise the children attending the party; (2) failed to warn the children of the danger they were facing; (3) failed to take any action to prevent the collapse of the deck; (4) failed to prevent the injury to the children; and (5) failed to observe what they could have observed in the exercise of reasonable care regarding the flexing of the deck.”

Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, holding that there was no duty owed to plaintiff because the collapse of the deck was not foreseeable. The Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling.

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In Haynes v. Lunsford, No. E2015-01686-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for a real estate agent and agency on a misrepresentation claim where plaintiffs had access to the same information as defendants.

Plaintiffs contacted defendant real estate agent, who worked for the defendant agency, about buying a log cabin. While looking at MLS with defendant, plaintiffs found the cabin they eventually purchased. Defendant was not the listing agent on this cabin. Defendant and plaintiff visited the cabin together and both felt it looked new and “smelled great.” Plaintiffs had a home inspection done prior to the purchase, which revealed some “common cracks” but did not mention mold. Plaintiffs did not “take any action to make sure the basement was moisture free” before the purchase.

Before the closing, defendant sent plaintiff all the documents in her possession, including the MLS listing, the CRS property report, seller’s disclosure, the home inspection report, and the seller’s warranty deed. The deed showed that a bank was the grantor, which defendant admitted could mean that the property had been involved in a foreclosure. Plaintiffs closed on the cabin and moved in, and five months later they “began smelling a mildew type odor.” Six months after the purchase, an inspector found moisture in a wall, and some months after that, mold spores were found.

Plaintiffs brought suit against defendant real estate agent and the agency she worked for, alleging that “the cabin was presented to them as ‘new’ and ‘just recently built.’” Plaintiffs’ complaint included claims of fraudulent misrepresentation, failure to disclose adverse facts, and violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Plaintiffs asserted that “the cabin had a moisture and mold problem about which the defendants knew or should have known,” and that “defendants had a duty to disclose the moisture and mold problems to plaintiffs[.]”

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that there was “no evidence whatsoever that Defendants…were aware of mold being present in this house,” and that “plaintiffs had the same information that [defendants] had about the home.” The Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling.

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In Battery Alliance, Inc. v. Allegiant Power, LLC, No. W2015-02389-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 30, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals vacated a summary judgment order for defendants because the trial court failed to state the legal grounds for summary judgment before asking counsel for defendants to draft an order.

The facts underlying this case revolved around the president and other employees of a Tennessee battery company leaving and starting a competing battery company in Florida. Plaintiff, the Tennessee company, filed suit against the Florida company and several individual defendants, citing various causes of action including intentional interference with business relationships. Defendants filed a counterclaim against plaintiff and also filed a motion for summary judgment. In response to defendants’ filings, plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaim.

The trial court held a hearing on the motions and denied plaintiff’s motion to dismiss, but it “took the motion for summary judgment under advisement.” The next day, the judge’s law clerk emailed counsel for the parties and said the judge was going to grant summary judgment to defendants, and further asked defense counsel to “draw up the order.” At a subsequent hearing on a motion to compel, “counsel for Plaintiffs requested that the court provide its legal reasoning supporting the decision to grant Defendants’ motion for summary judgment prior to entry of the judgment.” The trial court replied that the reasoning would be provided in its order. The trial court further stated that “counsel for Defendants was preparing only a ‘template’ for the court’s order and that the actual court order entered would be the court’s ‘work.’” Weeks later, defendants sent the template to the court, plaintiff lodged an objection to the template, and the court eventually entered an order granting summary judgment.

In Hale v. State, No. E2016-00249-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a negligence case because it was based on the failure of the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) to ensure compliance with a certain statute, and that statute did not “confer a private right of action.”

Plaintiff’s daughter was murdered by Terry Releford while she was married to Mr. Releford and pregnant with his child. Before this marriage, Mr. Releford had spent time in a Tennessee prison for several crimes, including three counts of aggravated rape. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-524 “requires that those convicted of certain offenses, including aggravated rape, remain subject to community supervision for life.” Mr. Releford’s judgment of conviction, however, did not include the community supervision requirement.

At some point during Mr. Releford’s incarceration, a TDOC employee sent a letter to the District Attorney’s office asking for a corrected judgment. No response was received, and the judgment was never corrected. Mr. Releford was released with no community supervision requirement, subsequently met plaintiff’s daughter, and murdered her less than a year later.

In Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, No. E2015-01827-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Dec. 22, 2016), the Tennessee Supreme Court analyzed claims against the seller of an AED, and though the claims were framed in the context of the decedent being a third-party beneficiary of the contract between the seller and owner of the AED, the Court engaged in quite a bit of analysis surrounding the duties implicated by the sale and/or ownership of an AED.

In 2008, defendant church had purchased four AEDs from defendant ExtendLife, one of which one placed in a fitness facility owned and operated by the church. When the church purchased the machines, they also purchased the Physician Oversight Program Management System, which outlined certain services that ExtendLife would provide to the church. In addition, as part of the purchase, ExtendLife provided four complimentary training sessions for CPR, AED and Emergency Oxygen Administration certifications. The church utilized three of these four sessions, but the final session was cancelled due to low attendance.

More than two years later, in January 2011, plaintiff and her husband joined the church’s fitness facility. In August of that year, the husband took a cycling class and then collapsed. The class instructor attended to the husband, thinking he was suffering from a seizure, and she was eventually assisted by two off-duty police personnel who were at the facility. These men asked the instructor to retrieve the nearest AED, which she did, but the machine was not used on husband. An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and transported husband to the hospital, where he died.

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Tennessee’s personal injury and wrongful death jury trials and judgment amounts continue at historic lows.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, only 396 personal injury and wrongful death cases went to trial.  Of those 396  trials, only 190 were jury trials – the rest (206) were non-jury trials. For the year earlier (2014-15) there were 367 trials, 183 of which were jury trials and the balance (187) were non-jury trials.

At first glance this shows that the number of jury trials actually increased in 2015-16 190 vs. 183), but it is important to note that the number of tort cases disposed of during 2015-16 actually went up  over 10% (10,951 vs. 9695) so one would have expected an even larger increase in the number of  jury trials.  Only 3.5% of a case dispositions were resolved by a jury or non-jury trial – the other 96.5% of cases were settled or dismissed.

In Lurks v. City of Newbern, Tennessee, No. W2016-01532-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 26, 2017), the Court of Appeals reminded us once again that evidence of a fall is not enough to establish liability in a slip and fall premises liability case.

Here, plaintiff was walking on a city-owned and maintained sidewalk outside her home. She walked this sidewalk often, as she and her husband owned a vacant lot next to her home as well as a rental property on the same street. According to her testimony, she was aware that the sidewalk was in poor condition and had complained to the city. On this particular day, she fell on the sidewalk, sustaining an injury that eventually required knee surgery.

At trial, plaintiff testified that “she fell immediately, that she did not stumble and fall, and that she did not know what caused her to fall or whether her foot hit anything that caused her to fall.” As there were no witnesses to plaintiff’s fall, “there was no testimony at all by anyone regarding what caused [plaintiff] to fall.” The trial court ruled that the sidewalk was in fact defective, but that the case should be dismissed because “there was no proof as to the cause of [plaintiff’s] fall,” and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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A recent Court of Appeals opinion shows yet another case of a potentially valid health care liability claim failing because of plaintiff’s failure to follow the goofy yet mandatory procedural notice requirements of the HCLA statute.

In Piper v. Cumberland Medical Center, No. E2016-00532-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 20, 2017), plaintiff wife sued after her husband died while under the care of defendant physicians and hospital. According to the allegations in the complaint, husband went to the hospital due to fatigue and was diagnosed with stage four kidney failure. Plaintiff asserted that ten days after her husband’s admission to the hospital, one of the defendant physicians told her that “it was a shame they couldn’t treat her husband due to his religious beliefs.” At this point, plaintiff discovered that her husband had incorrectly been identified as a Jehovah’s Witness. She corrected the information and gave consent to treat, but her husband died shortly thereafter. Plaintiff alleged that defendants provided negligent treatment and “were negligent because they incorrectly assumed that Decedent’s religious beliefs guaranteed that he would reject available life-saving treatment and because they failed to ask Decedent or [plaintiff] for permission to administer such treatment.”

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Numbers confirm what those of us who represent patients in Tennessee medical malpractice cases thought we knew:  the number of claims paid in medical malpractice cases is declining.

Using data gather from the National Practioner Data Bank, JAMA Internal Medicine  reports that the overall rate of claims paid on behalf of physicians deceased by 55.7% from 1992 to 2014. The mean compensation payment was $329, 565. The mean payment increased by 23.3%, from $286 ,751 in 1992-1996 to $353 ,473 in 2009-2014, a rate less than the increase in inflation (and far less than the rate of health care inflation, during the period.

Why did this happen?  Here is my view:

While a surviving spouse typically has the superior right to bring a wrongful death suit, there are certain exceptions to that rule. In Nelson v. Myres, No. M2015-01857-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2017), the Court held that a suit filed by the deceased’s daughter rather than her husband could proceed, as the husband was alleged to have at least partially caused her death.

Wife died in a multi-car accident while she was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband. In the accident, husband and a car driven by Mr. Bennett collided, then those two vehicles crossed into opposing traffic and hit two other vehicles. Both the husband and daughter of deceased wife filed wrongful death actions. The trial court dismissed daughter’s action, holding that her action “must yield to the claim of the surviving spouse.” The Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated daughter’s complaint.

In her complaint, daughter named husband as a defendant and alleged that husband was guilty of negligence and negligence per se because he was driving under the influence and was traveling at a high rate of speed, racing Mr. Bennett. In the suit filed by husband, Mr. Bennett was the only defendant named, and husband alleged that “Mr. Bennett’s actions were the sole cause of the accident and death of [wife].”

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