Where the trial court granted summary judgment on two grounds in a Tennessee medical malpractice case, but plaintiff only raised one of the grounds in her appeal, summary judgment was affirmed.

In Lovelace v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, No. W2019-00453-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 16, 2020), plaintiff filed an HCLA suit after her husband died following treatment at defendant hospital. During his time at the hospital being treated for pneumonia, he developed seven pressure ulcers on his body, and though he was transferred to a different facility, he passed away.

Plaintiff filed this health care liability suit and attached the affidavit of her expert witness, Brenda Moore, who was a “registered nurse with a doctorate of nursing practice.” Nurse Moore was eventually deposed, after which defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant on two grounds: 1) that plaintiff’s identified expert did not provide sufficient causation testimony, and 2) that Nurse Moore was not competent to testify under Tennessee’s HCLA statutes.

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Where a tenant brought a premises liability claim against a landlord based on a loose piece of wood at the top of stairs inside an apartment, but the evidence showed that the tenant and landlord walked through the apartment before the lease began and neither noticed the allegedly dangerous condition and that plaintiff himself lived in the apartment for a month and a half without becoming aware of the loose wood, summary judgment for the landlord was affirmed.

In Fisher v. Villages at Henley Station, LLC, No. M2018-01990-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2020), plaintiff rented a townhome from defendants. The townhome had been built about eight months before the lease began, and plaintiff was the first resident. Before the lease was signed, plaintiff did a walkthrough of the townhouse with the property manager, and neither of them noticed a problem with the stairs. Plaintiff lived in the home for approximately one and a half months, using the stairs daily with no problem, but then suffered a fall that he alleged was caused by a plank of wood not properly connected at the top of the stairs. The evidence showed that plaintiff had not noticed the issue before his fall and that no other tenants had experienced such an issue.

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Motions to amend a complaint or answer are a routine part of trial practice in Tennessee state court.

Here is a recent statement on the law of motions to amend:

Trial courts have broad authority to decide motions to amend pleadings and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Hawkins v. Hart, 86 S.W.3d 522, 532 (Tenn.Ct.App.2001). Under the abuse of discretion standard, an appellate court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. Williams v. Baptist Mem’l Hosp., 193 S.W.3d 545, 551 (Tenn.2006). Numerous factors guide a trial court’s discretionary decision whether to allow a late-filed amendment. Some of these include undue delay, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments and futility of the amendments. Merriman v. Smith, 599 S.W.2d 548, 559 (Tenn.Ct.App.1979).

Where a man being arrested was shot and killed after he went out of his home and raised a gun towards a police officer, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a GTLA tort suit, finding that the police department was immune from suit and that the suit was barred by the decedent’s comparative fault.

In Acree v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2019), decedent failed to appear for an aggravated criminal trespass court hearing, which resulted in a felony warrant being issued. Officers retrieved the warrant the next day, and the warrant stated that “subject may exhibit paranoia and feel that officers are following him.” The officer serving the warrant also noted that “Decedent had been arrested three times in the past six months without incident.” Four officers proceeded to decedent’s home, and two went to the front door and two to the back door. One officer knocked and identified himself, and when there was no answer, he saw through a hole in the door that decedent was not moving. The officer knocked again and saw decedent move away from the front of the house, so he called over the radio that decedent was walking towards the back door. Decedent then “abruptly open[ed] the back door and raise[d] a firearm at” one officer. The officer shot once, striking and killing decedent.

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Rule 15 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure allows complaints and answers to be amended under the conditions set forth in the rule, but amendments do not make the statements in the original pleading disappear.

In Lanier v. Bane, No. M2000-03199-COA-R3CV, 2004 WL 1268956, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 8, 2004), Lanier pleaded that his host driver was drunk and caused a one-car accident, resulting in the death of Bane and injuries to Lanier.  In his amended complaint, Lanier materially changed those allegations and said his host driver was not drunk.  Bane’s estate defended by asserting that Lanier was partially at fault by voluntarily becoming a passenger in a vehicle driven by one he knew to be intoxicated.

In Footnote 1 of the Court of Appeals opinion affirming a 50% finding of fault on Lanier for contributing to his own injuries, the court noted as follows: “How Mr. Lanier came to “un-know” in his amended complaint that which he knew well in the original complaint about his host driver’s intoxication makes for interesting reading.”

Tennessee law will permit a plaintiff who properly voluntarily dismisses a suit  in state  to timely re-file it and avoid a statute of limitations defense, but the correct procedure must be followed.

Frye v. Blue Ridge Neuroscience Center, P.C., 70 S .W.3d 710, 716-717 (Tenn.2002) tells us that “absent service of the Notice of Voluntary Dismissal and the complaint at the time of taking the nonsuit, a plaintiff who has failed to serve process prior to the taking of the nonsuit in accordance with Rule 3 may not rely upon the benefit of the one-year tolling period of the saving statute to avoid the bar of the statute of limitations.”

Rule 41.01, governing the taking of voluntary dismissals, provides that,

Where a plaintiff’s expert testimony in an HCLA (formerly known as medical malpractice) case was deemed to be “ambiguous and inconclusive” regarding causation, summary judgment for defendant was affirmed.

In Bridges v. Lancaster, No. M2019-00352-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2019), plaintiff had surgery performed by defendant doctor to put an arteriovenous graft in her upper left arm. In recovery, she complained of pain in her left hand, and after being discharged, she returned to the ER with complaints of hand pain. Three days after the first surgery, defendant performed a second surgery to remove the graft. Plaintiff continued to complain of pain, and six days later “a consulting physician documented that plaintiff had no ulnar pulse in her left arm.” Defendant did not order an arteriogram or a CT angiogram. Seventeen days after the second surgery, plaintiff had to have two fingers and part of a third finger removed, and she lost function of most of her left hand.

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Certain claims for personal injury, wrongful death and property damage may be asserted against the State of Tennessee, but different rules apply and there are plenty of pitfalls for those unfamiliar with the law or procedures of litigating in the Claims Commission.  One such pitfall arise at the intersection of the law of claims against the State and the law of comparative fault.

In Moreno v. City of Clarksville[1]  plaintiff filed a claim against the State of Tennessee after a tree on state law fell on his vehicle.  When the claim was not settled, he timely filed a formal complaint with the Claims Commission.  The State of Tennessee then blamed the City of Clarksville for causing the damage and, within the 90-day period provided by §20-1-119 plaintiff sued the City of Clarksville under the Governmental Tort Liability Act in state court.  As permitted by statute,[2] the Claims Commission action was transferred to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and consolidated with the action pending against the City of Clarksville. [3]

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Where a plaintiff was injured while working on a construction site owned by defendant, but the trial court ruled that plaintiff was actually an employee of an independent contractor retained by defendant, the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding defendant only 10% at fault for plaintiff’s injuries.

In Helton v. Lawson, No. E2018-2119-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2019), Defendant was having a house built on a piece of property that he owned, and he had retained “local handyman Gene Housewright” to help. Housewright was then contacted by plaintiff, who was looking for a job, and Housewright told him he needed laborers for defendant’s house project. On November 6, 2012, Housewright and another worker had assembled bracing to be used when working on the house. Later than day, plaintiff was standing on the bracing and was injured when the bracing pulled loose from the house, causing him to fall.

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The number of trials in Tennessee state court continued to decline in 2019, although jury trials in Circuit Court ticked up slightly.

What follows is the number of jury and non-jury trials in Tennessee state courts for the indicated fiscal years (July 1 – June 30):

Year   Chancery Non-Jury     Chancery Jury            Circuit Non-Jury                 Circuit Jury              Total