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Articles Posted in Medical Negligence

Where defendant pharmacists alleged comparative fault against a doctor and filed a certificate of good faith that complied with all the necessary requirements of the statute, the trial court’s decision to deny sanctions based on the allegation that the “certificate of good faith was supported by the written statement of an incompetent expert witness” was affirmed, even though the doctor’s motion for summary judgment had been successful. The Court of Appeals explained that “nothing in the express language of section 29-26-122 requires that a party asserting fault against another guarantee that his or her expert is competent or that the claim will ultimately prevail.”

In Smith v. Outen, No. W2019-01226-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2020), plaintiff filed an HCLA suit against defendant pharmacists for dispensing the wrong medicine to plaintiff. In her complaint, plaintiff stated that when her doctor realized she had been given the wrong medicine by the pharmacists, he ordered her to stop the medicine immediately. Defendant pharmacists filed an answer alleging comparative fault against the doctor, asserting that he should have had plaintiff taper off the medication rather than stop it immediately. The pharmacists’ attorney filed a certificate of good faith supporting their comparative fault allegation, as required by the HCLA, and plaintiff amended her complaint to add the doctor as a defendant.

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Where plaintiff’s pharmacist expert was deemed incompetent to offer necessary causation testimony against the pharmacy defendants in an HCLA suit based on his inability to rule out possible causes of death in a complex medical case, summary judgment for those defendants was affirmed.

In Kidd v. Dickerson, No. M2018-01133-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2020), plaintiff was the daughter of a patient who died after a stroke. The patient had multiple health issues at the end of her life, and the proper diagnosis and medication prescribed for blood clots was in contention in this HCLA suit.

On September 30, 2014, the patient, who was 82 years old, went to Family Health Group (“FHG”) with pain and swelling. She was seen by Dr. Ball and diagnosed with a blood clot. She returned on October 7 and was seen by Dr. Farmer, who also diagnosed a blood clot and prescribed a blood-thinning medicine called Pradaxa, which the patient had filled that day by the pharmacy defendants. The patient returned to FHG on October 13 for a follow-up appointment and saw Dr. Ball again, then returned on October 20 and was seen by a nurse practitioner, who found that the patient was “ill appearing,” that she had an “irregularly irregular” cardiovascular rhythm, and that she should be referred to a cardiologist that week.

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Where a daughter signed admission paperwork for her mother upon the mother’s admission to a nursing home, but the mother was mentally competent and did not give the daughter authority to sign the paperwork, an arbitration agreement included in the paperwork was unenforceable.

In Manley v. Humboldt Nursing Home, Inc., No. W2019-00131-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2020), plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against defendant nursing home after her mother passed away. Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement included in the admission paperwork. It was undisputed that the admission paperwork was signed by the daughter, even though the mother was “competent when she was admitted” and the daughter “did not possess a power of attorney to act on behalf of her mother.”

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Although a fee-splitting provision in an arbitration agreement was unconscionable based on the plaintiff’s financial situation, the Court of Appeals ruled that the fee-splitting provision was severable and that defendant’s motion to compel arbitration should have been granted.

In Stokes v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC, No. W2019-01983-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2020), plaintiff filed an HCLA complaint against defendant nursing home alleging that he had contracted sepsis due to the negligence of one of defendant’s nurses, and that he had suffered severe permanent injuries. Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration, attaching a three-page arbitration agreement that plaintiff had signed on two occasions. The agreement contained a provision stating that the parties would split the arbitration expenses equally. Plaintiff opposed the motion on a “cost-based unconscionability defense,” arguing that plaintiff would never be able to afford paying half of the arbitration costs. Defendant responded that this argument was moot, as it had offered to cover the entire cost of the arbitration. After a hearing, the trial court refused to compel arbitration, finding that the agreement was unconscionable. This appeal followed.

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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a $8.3 million damage award in the brachial plexus injury case brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The damage award was broken down as follows:

  • $64,967.77 for past medical expenses
  • $80,000 for future medical expenses
  • $2,653,000 in lost earnings
  • $1,500,000 for the permanent disfigurement of his right arm
  • $2,000,000 for the deprivation of a normal life and
  • $2,000,000 for pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

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Where plaintiff’s initial HCLA pre-suit notice included HIPAA authorizations that were left blank, and plaintiff’s supplemental authorization that attempted to correct the problem was sent after the one-year statute of limitations on his claim had run, dismissal was affirmed.

In Carrasco v. North Surgery Center, LP, No. W2019-00558-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2020), plaintiff filed a health care liability suit against defendants based on “injuries sustained by a guidewire left in the plaintiff’s neck following a procedure.” Prior to filing his suit, plaintiff sent defendants a pre-suit notice letter on August 31 and September 1, 2016, that was accompanied by the HIPAA authorizations required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). The authorizations, however, contained blanks that were not filled in, and “plaintiff concede[d] that the authorizations did not substantially comply with the requirements of the [HCLA].” Later, on November 2, 2016, plaintiff sent new authorizations which purportedly corrected the issues with the first set of authorizations. In paragraph three of the new authorizations, however, the information to be used or disclosed named “Narinder Sanwal, Deceased,” instead of plaintiff.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the noncompliant HIPAA authorizations, which the trial court granted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where plaintiff failed to include one of the core elements in the HIPAA authorizations sent with her HCLA pre-suit notice, she could not rely on her notice letter to “cure any deficiency on the authorization document.”

In Hancock v. BJR Enterprises, LLC, No. E2019-01158-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 14, 2020), plaintiff sued defendants as power of attorney for patient, who allegedly suffered skin problems, pressure sores, and severe sepsis after his treatment by defendants. Plaintiff sent a timely pre-suit notice “packet” to defendants, which included a cover letter directed to each provider, an attached list of the names and addresses of all providers being sent notice, and a HIPAA authorization.

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Where a HIPAA authorization included with HCLA pre-suit notice “permits a defendant to obtain medical records in actual fact but simply does not include the word ‘obtain,’ it is still compliant.”

In Combs v. Milligan, No. E2019-00485-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 1, 2020), plaintiffs filed a health care liability suit against several defendants based on a surgically inserted port that became infected and caused permanent injuries. Before filing their complaint, plaintiffs sent the defendants pre-suit notice and included a HIPAA authorization as required by the HCLA. The authorization was accompanied by a letter that stated: “Attached please find a list of providers to whom a substantially similar notice is being sent…[Plaintiff] has executed a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization authorizing you to obtain complete medical records from [same list of providers].”

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When a defendant has filed a motion to dismiss challenging whether an HCLA plaintiff fulfilled the pre-suit notice requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121, “prejudice is relevant to the determination…but it is not a separate and independent analytical element.”

In Martin v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02214-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. April 29, 2020), plaintiffs filed an HCLA case against multiple defendants based on the death of their daughter. Plaintiffs gave timely pre-suit notice, but the HIPAA authorization they sent with their notice failed to include “three of the six core elements federal law requires for HIPAA compliance.” Specifically, the authorizations “failed to list the name and address of the provider authorized to release medical records,” failed to list an expiration date, and “failed to provide a description or documentation of [plaintiff’s] authority to act for the decedent.”

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Where plaintiff’s claims were all based on the allegation that defendant counselors falsified or altered his minor children’s counseling records, the claims fell within the HCLA and pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith was required.

In Cathey v. Beyer, No. W2019-01603-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 24, 2020), plaintiff was the father of two minor children and was not married to the children’s mother. The mother took the children to see the two defendants, both of who were licensed professional counselors. One defendant performed an initial psychological evaluation on the children, and the other provided counseling to them for approximately two months.

When plaintiff learned that the children had been in counseling, he requested the children’s records from defendants and was provided copies. During a subsequent custody dispute, he allegedly received a different copy of the records via a subpoena to the child’s mother, which he asserted showed that defendants had “falsified the records they tendered to him.”

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