Claims of “Beatings” By Medical Personnel Not Subject to Tennessee HCLA

In Lacy v. Saint Thomas Hospital West, No. M2016-01272-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 4, 2017), a pro se plaintiff brought a claim against several medical providers, alleging that she was “beaten during medical procedures.” Plaintiff did not give pre-suit notice or file a certificate of good faith, and the defendants accordingly moved to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff’s claims were covered by the HCLA. The trial court dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed a portion of this ruling, holding that some of plaintiff’s claims did not fall under the HCLA and were thus not subject to its procedural requirement.            Plaintiff’s claims related to two separate incidents. In the first, she alleged that a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital “committed the offense of assault and battery by beating, electrocuting, and burning her while she was undergoing medical testing.” Plaintiff asserted that her hands were burned and she suffered an overdose of electrical current, and that after the shock the doctor “physically beat her…[by] hitting her four times on the front part of her right shoulder.” The second incident concerned an MRI, which plaintiff alleged was too hot and burned her. She also claimed that the individual administering the MRI beat her on the left shoulder while positioning her, and that after the test he “took her medical file and beat her from head to ankle up and down never saying a word.” She further alleged that an MRI technician “beat her left leg four times causing bruising.”

Plaintiff’s claims related to two separate incidents. In the first, she alleged that a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital “committed the offense of assault and battery by beating, electrocuting, and burning her while she was undergoing medical testing.” Plaintiff asserted that her hands were burned and she suffered an overdose of electrical current, and that after the shock the doctor “physically beat her…[by] hitting her four times on the front part of her right shoulder.” The second incident concerned an MRI, which plaintiff alleged was too hot and burned her. She also claimed that the individual administering the MRI beat her on the left shoulder while positioning her, and that after the test he “took her medical file and beat her from head to ankle up and down never saying a word.” She further alleged that an MRI technician “beat her left leg four times causing bruising.”

The Court of Appeals determined that some of plaintiff’s claims were in fact health care liability claims that were subject to dismissal due to plaintiff’s failure to give pre-suit notice and file a certificate of good faith. The Court ruled that the claims related to alleged problems with the electro-diagnostic testing done at the hospital and claims related to the MRI machine being too hot were clearly covered by the HCLA, and dismissal of those claims was affirmed.

Plaintiff’s claims that she was beaten, however, were not subject to the HCLA and sounded in tort law. The Court reasoned:

[W]e must presume that [plaintiff’s] allegations are true, and we must give her the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Using the plain and ordinary meaning of the language contained in [plaintiff’s] complaints, we cannot conclude that the alleged willful and malicious ‘beatings’ by [the medical personnel] constitute health care liability claims under the THCLA. It strains credulity to view a willful assault as being related to the provision of health care services. While we recognize that further evidence may show otherwise, we are not prepared to hold that [plaintiff] can prove no set of facts in support of these claims that would warrant relief.

Accordingly, dismissal of the claims related to the “beatings” was overturned.

Two things to note here—first, although the definition of health care liability action is now very broad, there are still times when a claim that arises from a medical setting will not fall within the ambit of the HCLA. Second, this is not the first time we have seen this pro se plaintiff. In a previous case, she alleged that a chiropractor beat her on the back with her medical folder after her treatment. In that case, like this one, dismissal of her claims related to the provision of chiropractic services was affirmed under the HCLA, but dismissal of the claim related to being “beaten” on the back was reversed.