In Stinson v. Mensel, No. M2016-00624-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 12, 2017), a neighborly dispute about chickens turned into a suit and counter-suit for nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and injunctive relief.

Plaintiffs owned land on which several neighbors had an easement for access to their properties. Defendants, two couples who used the easement to get to their homes, alleged that they had never met plaintiffs until the facts surrounding this case began. In 2008, plaintiff husband “came to believe that [one of defendant couples] had stolen some of his chickens that wandered over” to defendants’ property. Plaintiffs left a note in defendants’ mailbox accusing them of stealing the chickens, and plaintiffs subsequently began harassing defendants. Plaintiffs would put brush and fence posts on the easement, blocking passage on the easement. Plaintiffs dug a ditch on the easement which subsequently caused excessive erosion. Plaintiffs screamed at defendants, followed one defendant with a rock, erected a sign telling one couple to stay off plaintiffs’ side of the easement, and prevented defendants from performing maintenance on the easement. Ultimately, plaintiffs filed this suit, claiming that defendants “had caused the easement to be graded and bulldozed, encroached onto [plaintiffs’] property, and made verbal threats and used intimidation” against plaintiffs.

Defendants filed a counter-complaint, and the trial court ultimately dismissed all of plaintiffs’ claims and found that plaintiffs were liable to defendants for nuisance, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Further, the trial court “enjoined [plaintiffs] from forever using, driving on, damaging, or interfering with [the easement], or the maintenance of the same.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the nuisance finding, but reversed on the invasion of privacy and emotional distress claims, and it modified the injunction against plaintiffs.

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Who has the right to recover medical expenses incurred for personal injuries to children in Tennessee?  The parents?  The minor?  Either but not both?  Does it make any difference if there is a holder of a subrogation interest which has a right to assert a claim against either the parents or the minor?

My recent article on the subject appears on PDF Page 38 of a recent edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal.

An excerpt:

In Ramsey v. Cocke County, Tennessee, No. E2016-02145-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 23, 2017), plaintiff sued the county, the police department, and the county emergency communications district for wrongful death after her daughter committed suicide. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “the decedent’s suicide was foreseeable and that the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine applie[d].”

According to plaintiff, she called 911 around 8:30 p.m. one night because her daughter was exhibiting “unexplained serious mental and behavioral” issues and was indicating that she was going to commit suicide. Plaintiff asserted that she told the 911 operator that her daughter was threatening suicide and asked for police assistance, but that the operator refused to send police because “it was not their policy to respond to domestic family issues.” Plaintiff called again around 9:15 and was denied police assistance a second time, and plaintiff was transferred to an officer who allegedly affirmed that it was “not their policy to send responders in situations like this.” Because the operator had refused to dispatch an officer, plaintiff stated that she drove to the police department, but that the doors were locked and she could not find an officer. When plaintiff returned home, her daughter had committed suicide.

Plaintiff filed suit for wrongful death, and the defendants disputed plaintiff’s version of the facts. Defendants denied that plaintiff requested an officer or that she told them that her daughter was contemplating suicide. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that they “did not owe plaintiff a duty of care pursuant to the public duty doctrine” and that the suicide was “an intervening and independent cause which supersedes any liability and is the proximate cause of the death of the decedent.” The trial court granted the summary judgment, finding that the suicide here was an intervening cause, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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In Graham v. The Family Cancer Center PLLC, No. W2016-00859-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 5, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a health care liability suit, agreeing that “plaintiffs lacked sufficient expert testimony to establish their claims.”

Plaintiff patient had been treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the 1990s, and he was subsequently monitored by defendant doctor. Part of the monitoring included checking plaintiff’s prostate specific antigen, or PSA. Plaintiff’s “PSA rose from 2.0 ng/mL in 2000 to 4.8 ng/mL in December 2002 and to 8.5 ng/mL in April 2005.” Plaintiff also complained of blood in his urine in both April 2002 and July 2004. In April 2005, based on the testing and plaintiff’s complaints of pain, defendant ordered an ultrasound, which “revealed findings consistent with benign prostate hypotrophy,” and defendant referred plaintiff to a urologist. Plaintiff saw defendant six times after this referral until August 2007, when his PSA measured 12.0ng/mL, and defendant “never inquired whether [plaintiff] had met with an urologist and did not make an additional referral.”

Six months later, plaintiff went to another doctor and was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had a “radical prostatectomy,” and pathology reported the disease was “locally advanced with several high risk features.” Plaintiff “was considered at high risk for a local recurrence and distant metastatic disease.”

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In Henderson v. The Vanderbilt University, No. M2016-01876-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2017), the Court of Appeals overturned summary judgment on a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, holding that “the alleged failure of the defendant hospital to provide care to the plaintiffs’ daughter, despite repeated assurances from the hospital that it would occur, constitutes an injury-producing event that was witnessed by plaintiffs.”

Plaintiffs brought their 10-year-old daughter to defendant hospital for septic shock related to the flu. She was admitted to the pediatric ICU on March 23, 2013, and given fluids and other medicines, but “no central line was placed; no echocardiogram was performed; no one called for a cardiology consult.” On the morning of March 24th, plaintiffs “witnessed their daughter go into cardiac arrest.” Plaintiffs were escorted out of the room while defendant spent two hours performing CPR. After the cardiac arrest, plaintiffs allege that the child’s condition deteriorated, and during a procedure on April 4th, she suffered a stroke and was ultimately pronounced brain dead. Care was withdrawn the child passed away on April 5th.

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In Montpelier v. Moncier, No. E2016-00246-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 1, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of an abuse of process claim.

The background of this case was fairly unique, as it involved attorneys suing another attorney due to defendant attorney’s actions in an underlying case. Plaintiff attorneys had removed the underlying case to federal court and filed a notice of removal with the state court. Within 24 hours after the notice of removal was filed, defendant attorney served a Rule 11 motion on plaintiffs in the state court case. The Rule 11 motion, however, was never filed with the court, but only served on plaintiffs.*

Plaintiffs filed this abuse of process claim based on the Rule 11 motion served by defendant. Plaintiffs asserted that defendant was using Rule 11 improperly to attempt to fee-shift and that he committed an “intentional abuse of process” by refusing “to file the Rule 11 motions until he first determines how the underlying ‘offending’ pleading is decided.” Plaintiffs argued that defendant used his Rule 11 motion as an “open-ended threat of obtaining money from his adversaries and their attorneys unless they withdrew facts and claims,” and that he “primarily sought to increase the burden and expense of litigation[.]” Further, plaintiffs argued that the proper place for defendant to have filed this particular Rule 11 motion was federal court, but that defendant could not comply with the proper filing because he was disbarred from the federal court.

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In Jackson v. CitiMortgage, Inc., No. W2016-00701-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment on an intentional misrepresentation (or fraud) claim where the plaintiffs could not establish that an “explicit promise or representation was made[.]”

During the 2008 recession, plaintiffs defaulted on their mortgage, which was held by defendant. Defendant notified plaintiffs in December 2010 that if the default was not cured, foreclosure proceedings would begin. In 2011, plaintiffs applied for loan modification assistance, but were denied. In March 2014, plaintiffs received a letter from a trustee stating that foreclosure would occur. Plaintiffs hired representation (“Mrs. Mitchell”), and Mrs. Mitchell and one of defendant’s representatives began emailing.

The foreclosure was postponed two times, and then was set for July 29, 2014. Before that date, Mrs. Mitchell and defendant’s representative were again in contact via email. Defendant’s representative told Mrs. Mitchell in an email that the “underwriter has requested some additional information from your client to complete their review file,” and that he would “follow up to confirm receipt or check progress by” the set foreclosure date. Plaintiffs asserted in their complaint that they provided the documents to Mrs. Mitchell and were told by her that defendant had agreed not to foreclose on July 29th. Defendants alleged they never received the documents, and Mrs. Mitchell died before the lawsuit was filed, so plaintiffs’ only evidence of the alleged promise to not foreclose was plaintiff wife’s uncorroborated testimony regarding what Mrs. Mitchell told her. The property was sold at foreclosure as scheduled on July 29, 2014.

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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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