Articles Posted in Medical Negligence

Where an HCLA plaintiff was aware of injuries suffered by a decedent and had been told by a nurse that she should look into the decedent’s care at the hospital, the statute of limitations began running well before an expert reviewed the decedent’s medical files and opined that the injury was caused by the hospital.

In Daffron v. Memorial Health Care System, Inc., No. E2018-02199-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 2019), plaintiff filed a wrongful death action under the HCLA based on the death of her father. The father had diabetes, and plaintiff had been caring for him for some time before he was admitted to the hospital. Plaintiff knew that her father required specific skincare to avoid the development of bed sores. When the father was admitted to defendant hospital, he had no sores, but on November 11, 2013, just 10 days after he was admitted, plaintiff discovered that he had two bed sores on his buttocks. He eventually needed two debridements to treat these sores.

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Where HCLA (Tennessee medical malpractice) defendants knew that their hospital employer was a necessary party under the GTLA yet failed to identify them to plaintiff pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §29-26-121(a)(5), plaintiff was entitled to add the hospital under comparative fault statute when it was later identified in defendants’ answers. Plaintiff’s failure to give the hospital pre-suit notice did not change this result.

In Bidwell v. Strait, No. E2018-02211-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2019), plaintiff brought suit on behalf of his wife, who died after being treated, released, and treated again by defendants. Plaintiff gave proper pre-suit notice to the defendants named in his complaint, including two physicians, Dr. Colburn and Dr. Strait. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, both of these doctors were actually employed by Erlanger hospital at the time of the incident, and because Erlanger is a governmental hospital authority, this claim fell under the GTLA.

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Where plaintiff sent a HIPAA authorization with his pre-suit notice that was HIPAA compliant but authorized the disclosure of records, rather than the obtaining of records, the Court of Appeals ruled that he substantially complied with the HCLA.
In Short v. Metro Knoxville HMA, LLC, No. E2018-02292-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 23, 2019), plaintiff filed a healthcare liability claim against various medical providers related to the treatment of his late wife during her pregnancy. Plaintiff gave timely pre-suit notice to all the relevant defendants, including a notice letter, a list of providers, and “an authorization to disclose Decedent’s entire medical record to each listed provider.” The letter listed relevant providers and stated that “a substantially similar notice” was being sent to each of them pursuant to the HCLA. The letter further provided that a HIPAA authorization was included “authorizing you to obtain complete medical records from” the relevant providers. The letter also stated that plaintiff was not waiving the “common law physician patient privilege,” and that he expected the recipient to “not communicate with any person, other than your attorney, about the care and treatment” of decedent. On the actual HIPAA authorization, plaintiff wrote that the provider was “authorized to make the disclosure” of the “entire record” to the listed providers “for the purpose of a legal matter.”

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In order to take advantage of the 120-day extension of the Tennessee HCLA provided by giving pre-suit notice, a plaintiff must have provided a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization with the notice.

The case of Webb v. AMISUB (SFH) Inc., No. W2017-02539-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2019), concerned whether a re-filed healthcare liability claim that was filed in reliance on the savings statute was timely, with the Court of Appeals ultimately affirming dismissal of the case. The alleged medical negligence took place on July 26, 2009, and plaintiffs initially gave pre-suit notice on July 21, 2010. That notice included purported HIPAA releases, but “the portion of the forms designating to whom records may be released was left blank.” On September 23, 2010, plaintiffs filed their initial lawsuit, naming as defendants the hospital, a doctor, and four nurses. The doctor and nurses filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ HIPAA authorizations were insufficient, and that they could thus not take advantage of the 120-day extension under the HCLA and the suit was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The trial court agreed, and after an interlocutory appeal, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claim against the hospital.

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Where plaintiff could only show that his expert in an HCLA case was a neurosurgeon consultant during the year prior to the incident, yet the alleged negligence was committed by a medical assistant and licensed practical nurse (LPN) in an urgent care clinic, plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to testify and summary judgment was affirmed.

In Estate of Shelton v. Greeneville Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinic, No. E2018-00862-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 24, 2019), plaintiff had gone to defendant urgent care clinic seeking pain medication. A medical assistant there asked him to get on the examination table. According to plaintiff, he told the assistant that he could not get onto the table, but she insisted, and while he was using a stool to get up, the “stool slipped or moved causing Plaintiff to lose his balance and fall.” Though the severity of the fall was disputed and there was no fall documented in plaintiff’s file, plaintiff was seen by a nurse practitioner who arranged for him to be x-rayed at the adjacent hospital. He was sent home after the x-ray, despite his complaints of pain, but was called the next day and told to return to the hospital for treatment for a broken back. Plaintiff eventually had surgery and physical therapy.

Plaintiff filed an HCLA claim against the clinic and the hospital, alleging that the stool was dangerous and that the clinic staff negligently insisted that he use it, and that “the Hospital failed to promptly diagnose and treat his injuries.” Plaintiff identified Dr. Edward Kaplan as an expert, who was a neurosurgeon consultant, and defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s expert should be disqualified. The trial court agreed, granting summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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When an HCLA plaintiff decides to serve pre-suit notice via personal service, such service must actually be completed in accordance with the statute in order for the plaintiff to take advantage of the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations.

In Webb v. Magee, No. 2018-01305-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 30, 2019), plaintiffs had filed a previous healthcare liability claim under the HCLA against multiple parties, including Dr. Charles Roberson. Plaintiffs attempted to personally serve Dr. Roberson with pre-suit notice within the one-year statute of limitations, but service of the pre-suit notice was not actually completed until almost two months later. One week after Dr. Roberson received pre-suit notice, plaintiffs filed their initial suit.

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A nurse who worked in an administrative capacity in the year preceding an incident underlying an HCLA claim may not be qualified to give expert testimony in the case.  A Rule 59.04 motion did not cure the deficiency in the initial affidavit.

In Smith v. Methodist Hospitals of Memphis, No. W2018-00435-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 25, 2019), plaintiff filed an HCLA suit alleging that defendant hospital failed to provide him proper postsurgical care, necessitating a subsequent hospitalization and surgery. This case was originally filed in 1999 and had already been through one round of appeals, but the issue in this opinion was whether the trial court rightly granted summary judgment on the basis that neither of plaintiff’s identified expert witnesses were competent to testify, and then properly denied a motion to alter or amend the judgment.

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When a plaintiff filed suit against a massage therapist and his employer alleging various claims based on an intentional sexual assault, the requirements of the HCLA did not apply to the intentional tort claims against the massage therapist. For the negligent retention or supervision claim against the employer, however, a certificate of good faith was required under the HCLA.

In Jackson v. Burrell, No. W2018-00057-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 16, 2019), plaintiff alleged that during a massage, defendant massage therapist sexually assaulted her, which resulted in a genital infection and eventual outpatient surgery. Plaintiff filed suit against the therapist and his day spa employer, alleging assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment against the therapist, and asserting claims for vicarious liability and negligent supervision, retention and training against the employer. Plaintiff gave pre-suit notice of her claims pursuant to the HCLA, but she did not file a certificate of good faith with her complaint. Defendants both filed motions for summary judgment based on the lack of a certificate of good faith, and the trial court granted the motions. On appeal, summary judgment as to the therapist was reversed, but the ruling for the employer was affirmed.

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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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Where plaintiff gave pre-suit notice of an HCLA suit to two defendants related by employment, but her HIPAA authorization failed to identify to whom medical records could be disclosed, the Court of Appeals analyzed whether each defendant was individually prejudiced by the lack of compliance. The Court ultimately concluded that the employer defendant who was in possession of all the records was not prejudiced and the suit could continue against it, but that the employee defendant who did not possess the records was prejudiced.

In Wenzler v. Yu, No. W2018-00369-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2018), plaintiff filed a health care liability case against a dentist and the practice for which he worked. She sent pre-suit notice with a HIPAA authorization attached, but while the HIPAA authorization “mentioned that the information would be used for litigation,” it “failed to identify the person or entity that was authorized to receive the disclosure pursuant to the release.” The trial court found that the HIPAA authorizations did not substantially comply with the statutory requirements and that plaintiff was therefore not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations, and thus dismissed the complaint as time-barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the dentist but reversed as to the dental practice.

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