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HCLA pre-suit notice addressed to administrator as an individual did not provide notice to health care facility.

Where an HCLA plaintiff attempted to sue defendant medical center but sent pre-suit notice to the center’s administrator addressed only to the administrator and not referencing the center, dismissal based on a lack of pre-suit notice was affirmed.

In Webb v. Trevecca Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, LLC,  No. M2019-01300-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 10, 2020), plaintiff filed this health care liability suit against defendant medical center and four individual employees of the center. Prior to filing suit, she sent five pre-suit notices to the center’s business address. Four of the notices were addressed to the four individual defendants and the fifth was addressed to Pamela Bishop, who was the medical center’s administrator. In neither the address, the address block on the letter, nor the greeting was Ms. Bishop’s role as administrator addressed. Instead, the letter was simply written to Pamela Bishop.

Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the four individual defendants, and then defendant medical center moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to give proper pre-suit notice. Defendant asserted that the notice addressed to Ms. Bishop did not fulfill the statutory requirements, and the trial court agreed. On appeal, dismissal was affirmed.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1) requires that an HCLA plaintiff give written notice of any potential suit to each defendant. In this case, none of the notices sent by plaintiff “were specifically directed to Trevecca Center” and the letter sent to Ms. Bishop “failed to identify Ms. Bishop as the facility administrator or indicate that [plaintiff] was asserting a claim against the facility.”

Plaintiff argued that defendant center knew the claim was against the facility, but the Court of Appeals noted that “the defendant’s actual or constructive knowledge is not our concern.” Further, the fact that there was no “health care license designation by Ms. Bishop’s name” did not cure the deficiencies in plaintiff’s notice. Because “[n]otice directed to the wrong person or entity is ineffective” and plaintiff did not provide notice to defendant center, dismissal of the case was affirmed. (internal citation omitted).

Plaintiffs must pay careful attention when addressing and sending out pre-suit notices for HCLA cases. Sending your notice to the wrong person or entity can be fatal to your HCLA claim.

 

NOTE:  this opinion was released over nine months after oral argument.

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