Where a plaintiff in an Tennessee HCLA (medical malpractice) case “failed to obtain a competent expert witness to testify on the applicable standard of care,” summary judgment as to all of her claims was affirmed.

In Akers v. Heritage Medical Associates, P.C., No. M2017-02470-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 4, 2019), plaintiff was treated by a physician assistant at defendant medical center and was given a punch biopsy on her wrist. Two days later, plaintiff went to the emergency room with complications in the same area, which were diagnosed as cellulitis and staph infection.

Plaintiff subsequently filed this complaint pro se against the treating physician assistant and the medical practice, alleging that the practitioner “was not qualified to perform the punch biopsy and did not wash her hands, wear gloves, or use sterile medical equipment when performing the procedure,” and that the complications she experienced resulted from this negligence. In response to interrogatories asking plaintiff to disclose her expert witness, she identified the emergency room doctor she had seen, but failed to give additional information including his publications, other cases in which he had testified, and the compensation to be paid. Defense counsel made several attempts to get plaintiff to supplement her responses, which eventually led to plaintiff disclosing a second doctor, but providing the same very basic information about him. For both of these doctors, plaintiff stated that they would testify that her injuries “could not likely have been the result of any factors other than negligence on the part of…Defendants,” but she did not mention standard of care testimony in the description of either named expert.

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When a plaintiff files a motion to set aside a final order granting summary judgment, he must “demonstrate that [he] had a meritorious defense” in such motion.

In Berge v. Warlick, No. M2018-00767-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 3, 2019), plaintiffs filed a legal malpractice claim against defendant. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and he sent a copy of the motion to plaintiffs’ attorney on September 7, along with a notice that it was scheduled for hearing on October 20, 2017. Plaintiffs never responded to the motion, and on the day a response was due, defendant sent a second copy of the motion to plaintiffs’ attorney via U.S. mail and email. Neither plaintiffs nor their attorney showed up for the hearing, and they did not respond to a proposed order granting summary judgment sent by defendant.

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When an alleged tortfeasor in a car accident case died before suit was brought, and plaintiffs failed to have an administrator properly named before the statute of limitations on their claim expired, dismissal of the case as a whole was affirmed, including dismissal in favor of plaintiffs’ uninsured motorist insurance carrier.

In Owens v. Muenzel, No. E2018-00199-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2018), plaintiffs were involved in a car accident with another driver on May 11, 2015, and the other driver died on November 14, 2015. Plaintiffs were not aware of his death and filed a personal injury suit against him on March 30, 2016 in circuit court. The summons to the driver was returned with a notation stating that he was deceased. On April 12, 2016, plaintiffs served their uninsured motorist (UM) carrier in the action, who answered by asserting that plaintiffs had not complied with the conditions of their insurance policy.

The deceased driver did not have a personal representative (and no estate was ever opened for him), so plaintiffs petitioned the trial court to appoint an administrator ad litem pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-1-109, which the court did. Later, in July 2017, the UM carrier moved for summary judgment on the basis that “(1) it could not be held liable as [plaintiffs’] [UM] carrier because [plaintiffs] failed to properly and timely bring an action against and serve with process either Deceased’s personal representative or properly appointed administrator ad litem prior to the running of the applicable statute of limitations and that (2) the order entered by the trial court appointing [an] administrator ad litem was void due to the circuit court lacking subject matter jurisdiction.” The circuit court ultimately agreed with both of these arguments, granting summary judgment to defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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When a plaintiff files a motion to set aside a final order granting summary judgment, he must “demonstrate that [he] had a meritorious defense” in such motion.

In Berge v. Warlick, No. M2018-00767-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 3, 2019), plaintiffs filed a legal malpractice claim against defendant. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and he sent a copy of the motion to plaintiffs’ attorney on September 7, along with a notice that it was scheduled for hearing on October 20, 2017. Plaintiffs never responded to the motion, and on the day a response was due, defendant sent a second copy of the motion to plaintiffs’ attorney via U.S. mail and email. Neither plaintiffs nor their attorney showed up for the hearing, and they did not respond to a proposed order granting summary judgment sent by defendant.

Twenty-eight days after the order was entered, plaintiffs filed a “Motion to Set Aside” pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 59.04. Plaintiffs asserted that they were entitled to relief due to the excusable neglect of plaintiffs’ counsel, who stated that “he misplaced the motion and forgot to mark the hearing on his calendar.” The trial court denied the motion to set aside, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where a medical transportation company had a patient sign an exculpatory agreement (commonly called “waiver forms”), the Supreme Court held that the agreement was not enforceable because of the “unequal bargaining power of the parties, the overly broad and unclear language of the agreement, and the important public interest implicated by the agreement.”

In Copeland v. HealthSouth/Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital, LP, No. W2016-02499-SC-R11-CV (Dec. 20, 2018), plaintiff was a patient at an in-patient rehabilitation hospital after a knee replacement, and the hospital arranged transportation for plaintiff to get to his follow up doctor’s appointment through defendant medical transportation company. When defendant’s driver arrived, he pushed plaintiff in a wheelchair from his room to the van, and plaintiff entered the van using a walker. Once in the van, plaintiff was presented with a two-sided form, with one side containing a “run report” and the other side containing a “Wheelchair Van Transportation Agreement.” The agreement “consisted of nine single-spaced paragraphs, including three paragraphs of exculpatory language” which purported to release defendant “from any and all claims arising from or in any way associated with any transportation services provided by [defendant].” Once plaintiff signed the form, the driver took him to his doctor’s appointment. While entering the van after the appointment, plaintiff “lost his footing on the running board, fell, and was injured.”

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Where a reasonable juror could have found that defendant allowed sewage to flow into a malfunctioning septic tank under plaintiff’s property for at least a short period of time after the issue was discovered, defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claim.

In Heatley v. Gaither, No. M2018-00461-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2018), plaintiff and defendant owned neighboring property that had been owned as one large parcel many years ago. Part of plaintiff’s property was “always damp and muddy,” and during an attempt to re-grade the area, plaintiff discovered that a malfunctioning septic tank with pipes leading to defendant’s building was located on his property. Before this discovery, neither plaintiff nor defendant had been aware of this septic tank.

Defendant’s employee “arranged to have the newly discovered tank emptied on November 4,” and he later stated in an affidavit that shortly after that date, the facilities that were connected to the tank were identified and not used anymore. The septic line between the two properties was permanently severed the following February.

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Where a homebuyer’s inspection of a property put them on notice that there were potential water issues in the garage before closing, the buyer could not later sustain a claim for fraud.

In Fulmer v. Follis, No. W2017-02469-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2018), plaintiffs had previously purchased a home from defendants. On their disclosure forms, defendants had stated that they knew of no drainage issues, and that heavy rain had caused water to come into the garage one time, but that the issue had been repaired. While under contract but before closing, plaintiffs had a home inspection done, which noted “possible rainwater intrusion at the east wall in the garage,” grading issues that might cause drainage problems outside the garage, and a 1×8 board that had been installed for “some unknown reason” on the base of the east garage wall. After the inspection, plaintiffs and defendants continued to communicate through their realtors, with defendants sending pictures after a rain to show that no water had come into the garage, and plaintiffs asking about seeing behind the board. Defendants told plaintiffs that the board was intended to cover an area where they “did not like how the drywall and the garage floor came together” and was “purely cosmetic.” Plaintiffs ultimately did not do any further inspection and closed on the property, but did negotiate for defendants to pay $1,500 more in closing costs “due to the possible rainwater intrusion and grading issue.”

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Where there was contradictory evidence regarding whether plaintiff followed certain braking procedures, but there was evidence that another employee did not follow lifting procedures at a railroad facility, a reasonable juror could have attributed no fault to plaintiff for an accident that occurred at the facility.

In Boyd v. BNSF Railway Company, No. W2017-02189-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 17, 2018), plaintiff worked at a railroad facility, and she “was crushed by a container box being lifted off of a holster truck.” Plaintiff had been driving the truck and had exited the truck when the other employee operating a crane began lifting the shipping container off the truck. When the entire truck started moving, plaintiff attempted to get back into the truck, but she was hit by the shipping container and seriously injured.

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Where plaintiff offered no evidence to refute defendant attorney’s testimony that he told plaintiff about the issues with a title before the closing of a real property purchase, summary judgment on the legal malpractice claim was affirmed based on the statute of limitations.

In Dent Road General Partnership v. Synovus Bank, No. W2017-01550-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 2018), plaintiff was a partnership who had worked with defendant attorney on the purchase of three tracts of real property in 2004. Although the contract stated that the parcels would be conveyed by warranty deeds, at closing a quitclaim deed was given for one. Later, in 2011, plaintiff partnership attempted to sell the property, at which time a title search revealed “four pending lawsuits seeking to set aside a fraudulent conveyance [of one parcel]…, several judgment liens, and liens lis pendens.” Within one year of this 2011 title search, plaintiff brought suit against several entities, including a claim for legal malpractice against defendant attorney in connection with the 2004 purchase.

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant attorney, finding that “the injury for purposes of the discovery rule occurred on the date of closing, Marcy 31, 2004, and that [plaintiffs] were alerted to the injury when they received the quitclaim deed at closing.” The Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling.

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Where a defendant filed his answer to a legal malpractice claim thirty-one days after being served with process and amended his originally insufficient answer, the Court of Appeals ruled that he did not waive his affirmative defenses.

In Allen v. Ozment, No. W2017-00887-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 2018), plaintiff filed a legal malpractice claim against defendant. The complaint was filed more than one year after the previous legal representation ended, and defendant was served a year and a half after the complaint was filed. Defendant filed an answer thirty-one days after being served, wherein he raised the affirmative defenses of insufficient service of process, insufficient process, and failure to state a claim. These affirmative defenses were not stated with the requisite specificity, but the trial court allowed defendant to file an amended answer with more specific affirmative defenses. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, supported by a memorandum, and the trial court dismissed the claim as time-barred. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal, arguing that defendant had waived his affirmative defenses, but the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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