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Where plaintiffs sent pre-suit notice to 45 health care providers, but the HIPAA authorization included with the notice only authorized disclosures to plaintiffs’ counsel, dismissal of their health care liability claim based on failure to comply with the statutory requirements was affirmed.

In Owens v. Stephens, No. E2018-01564-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 16, 2020), plaintiffs filed an HCLA claim against numerous defendants alleging that negligent care of plaintiff mother resulted in the death of her child. Before the suit was filed, plaintiffs sent pre-suit notice pursuant to the HCLA to 45 health care providers. This notice included a HIPAA authorization for the release of the mother and child’s medical records, but the release stated that it permitted providers “to disclose my entire medical record…to BREEDING & HENRY, LLC…” Breeding & Henry, LLC was the law firm representing plaintiffs.

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The Texas Supreme Court has reversed the imposition of sanctions by a trial judge against a lawyer who was alleged to have engaged in push-polling in a case shortly before it was set for trial by jury.

The movants argued that a law firm employed by defendant product manufacturer “had improperly commissioned a telephone survey to be conducted in the county of suit mere weeks before the scheduled jury trial without ensuring witnesses, represented parties, judges, and court personnel were excluded from the survey database and without voluntarily disclosing the survey to the trial court or the litigants.”  Maj. Op.,  p. 3.  The manufacturer did not commission the poll or know it was being done. Maj. Op., p.  8.   The poll is appended to the court’s opinion.

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Plaintiff’s allegation that the examination table provided during a doctor’s appointment was unsafe fell under the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA) and was thus subject to dismissal due to plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice.

In Johnson v. Knoxville HMA Cardiology PPM, LLC, No. E2019-00818-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 24, 2020), plaintiff had suffered from dizziness and fatigue, and he had a pacemaker implanted. In a later visit “for reprogramming of his pacemaker and other issues,” plaintiff fell off the examination table and hit the wall at defendant’s office “due to a fainting spell, resulting in injuries to [his] neck.”

Plaintiff filed suit alleging negligence, and his allegations were couched in premises liability language. Plaintiff asserted that defendants were negligent by failing to provide an examination table with railing and/or by failing to have padding. Plaintiff argued that “because Defendants knew that he suffered from fatigue and dizziness, they should have been aware of the risk associated with leaving him unattended on the examination table.”

Sometimes, a voluntary dismissal under Rule 41 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure is required and appropriate but the plaintiff wishes to re-file the case within the time permitted by the “savings statute”  (Tenn. Code Ann. Sec. 28-1-105).

What do you allege to avoid the risk of the defendant filing a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with the applicable statute of limitations?

Let’s use a hypothetical to demonstrate the point.  Plaintiff is injured in a car crash on December 27, 2017.  Plaintiff files suit against Defendant on August 14, 2018.  Plaintiff needs to voluntarily dismiss the case, and does so by order dated April 20, 2019.  The case is one to which the “savings statute” applies.

It is, as the Second District Court of Appeals of Florida said, a “rather arcane”issue: who decides whether a dispute is subject to an arbitration provision – a judge or an arbitrator.  Under the facts presented, the appellate court concluded that because the contract (a clickwrap agreement on AirBNB’s website)  “did not provide clear and unmistakable evidence that only the arbitrator could decide the issue of arbitrability” the issue was one for the judge.

The case is Doe v. Natt and AirBNB, Inc., Case No. 2D19-1383 (Fla. Ct. App. March 25, 2019).  The court reached a result different than several other intermediate appellate courts in Florida and thus is likely to go up on appeal.

The federal government has finished its investigation into a 2019 car crash involving a Tesla on autopilot.

The report, by the National Transportation and Safety Board, reaches the following conclusions:

  • the design of the Autopilot system contributed to the crash because it allowed the Tesla driver to avoid paying attention

Data has been released that shows the number of Tennessee medical malpractice (now called health care liability actions) filed and disposed of for the year ending June 30, 2019.

A total of 422 claims were filed in our state courts in FY 2019, about the same as the previous year (416).  The courts disposed of 385 cases in FY 2019, compared with 382 the previous year.

Only 27 of the cases went to trial in FY 2019, 17 of which were tried to a jury and 10 of which were non-jury trials.  In FY 2018 there were 18 total trials, 13 of which were jury trials and 5 of which were non-jury trials.

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,

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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