A Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the final judgment in a Tennessee wrongful death action was deemed untimely when filed almost twenty months after the order of dismissal.

In Hussey v. Woods, No. W2014-01235-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Dec. 18, 2017), decedent and Ms. Harris had a long-term relationship but were never married, but Ms. Harris had a child during this time period in 2005. When sued for support by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, decedent “signed an agreement admitting that he was the natural father of the child[.]” In 2008, decedent “died after being detained and handcuffed by the manager of a Family Dollar store in Memphis.” Decedent’s mother, with whom he lived, contacted an attorney about filing a wrongful death suit. This first attorney met with both mother and Ms. Harris in December 2008, and Ms. Harris “signed an agreement retaining [the attorney] to represent Ms. Harris and [decedent’s] minor child in a wrongful death suit against the Family Dollar store.”

In July 2009, the first attorney sent a family representative a letter declining representation. In November 2009, decedent’s mother hired another firm and filed a wrongful death suit as next of kin. This suit settled in March 2010, and a consent order of dismissal with prejudice was entered. Ms. Harris was not told about this suit, but in December 2011 she filed a motion to set aside the judgment under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 on behalf of the child, after having consulted with a legal aid attorney. In response to the motion, decedent’s mother argued that there were questions regarding the child’s paternity and that attempts to contact Ms. Harris had been unsuccessful.

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Allegations related to a patient being injured by a doctor’s handshake may not fall under the HCLA.

In Lacy v. Meharry General Hospital, No. M2016-01477-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2017), plaintiff went to defendant doctor for a check up regarding why she was getting short of breath. Upon entering the room, plaintiff alleged that she offered her hand for a handshake and defendant “squeezed [her] fingers too hard,” which she described as “a beating” or “assault.” Plaintiff alleged, in her pro se complaint, that because of this handshake, “her hand is in constant pain and the fingers no longer have any strength.” Plaintiff also asserted that defendant doctor did not properly add her sonogram results to her medical records.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on plaintiff’s noncompliance with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (HCLA). The trial court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed in part.

Where a trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a Tennessee premises liability case without considering plaintiff’s motion to amend her complaint, summary judgment was vacated.

In Shaw v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, No. M2016-02455-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2017), plaintiff was a school bus driver employed by defendant. While attending a mandatory training program in 2013, plaintiff had to park her bus then walk across a parking lot owned and maintained by defendant to get to a shuttle. While walking, plaintiff “tripped on a buckled and cracked portion of the pavement,” which was “purportedly the result of flooding that had occurred in Nashville in 2010.”

Plaintiff filed a premises liability complaint, alleging that defendant “breached its duty of care owed to her by failing to repair or warn her of this dangerous condition,” and asserting that “the parking lot existed in a state of disrepair and had been in such a state for a sufficient length of time that [defendant] knew or should have known of its dangerous condition.” Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff thereafter filed a motion to amend her complaint and add allegations that defendant “had violated various applicable building codes by failing to properly maintain the lot at issue” and thus committed negligence per se. Plaintiff also filed an affidavit from an engineering expert regarding the alleged building code violations.

Where a business leased its store space in a shopping center, the lease provided that the landlord was responsible for the parking lot, and a customer entering the store had the option of parking on a clear parking lot and using clear sidewalks to enter the business, the business owed no duty to a customer who slipped and fell on ice near the curb.

In Newell v. First State Bank, Inc., No. W2017-01209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2017), plaintiff was a customer at defendant tanning salon, and as she walked to her car after going to the salon she stepped “off the curb onto a snow and ice-covered portion of the parking lot where she had parked her car” and fell. Plaintiff brought a premises liability suit against the salon, as well as other defendants, though the salon was the only defendant relevant to this appeal.

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Where plaintiff could have discovered fire damage to her home by simply moving the refrigerator or looking in the HVAC return, the statute of limitations on her misrepresentation claims was not tolled under the discovery rule of the doctrine of fraudulent concealment.

In Eldridge v. Savage, No. M2016-01373-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2017), plaintiff purchased a home from defendant in 1994. At the time, defendant told plaintiff that the home had been damaged by a fire started by the previous occupants, and plaintiff noticed “that the home’s kitchen cabinets were caramel color due to being heat scorched, and observed that the home had at least one burnt floor joist in the basement.” Plaintiff also had the home inspected by a professional home inspector at the time of the purchase.

After living in the home for 16 years, one of plaintiff’s children developed respiratory issues, which eventually led doctors to recommend that plaintiff clean the home with bleach in case environmental conditions were causing the child’s issues. During this cleaning, plaintiff discovered that the home had “extensive fire damage behind the refrigerator, behind the cabinets, in the walls, and charred flooring was also discovered beneath the linoleum that [defendant] installed.” Plaintiff further found that “the HVAC return was filled with soot.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently refused to recognize liability for potential negligence from a home inspector to the third party guest of the purchaser of a home.

In Grogan v. Uggla, No. M2014-01961-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Nov. 21, 2017), plaintiff was injured when he was a social guest at a home and leaned against a second floor deck railing, which gave way and caused plaintiff to fall. During a home inspection prior to the purchase of the home, the “home inspector noted problems with the deck flooring of the second story deck but not with the railing.” The purchasers had the sellers replace the deck flooring, but not the railing. After plaintiff’s fall, a “forensic inspection of the railing showed that it had been improperly constructed using interior finishing nails rather than galvanized nails.” Plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, including the home inspector and the home inspection franchise.

Regarding defendant home inspector, the complaint alleged that he “should have known that the second floor rear exterior deck railing was constructed with interior finishing nails in violation of local, state, and national building codes, and constituted an unreasonable risk of harm…” The complaint further alleged that the home inspector did not perform the proper tests on the deck railing and that he “failed to report that [it] was negligently constructed in violation of local, state, and national building codes.”

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Where the only notification a hospital provided to a patient that a radiologist was not an agent of the hospital was buried in fine print in admission forms and not highlighted in any way, the trial court’s finding that the hospital was vicariously liable for any fault assigned to the radiologist was affirmed.

In Beard v. Branson, No. M2014-01770-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2017), the patient in question had colon surgery at defendant hospital and developed complications. The surgeon ordered a CT scan, which was performed at the hospital and read by Dr. Anderson, “a private radiologist whose practice group was under contract with [the hospital.]” The radiologist reported that the scan showed the “possibility of a mechanical bowel obstruction,” a finding with which the surgeon disagreed. The patient’s condition worsened, and she was eventually flown to another hospital where she died in emergency surgery. Plaintiff filed this HCLA/ wrongful death case against the hospital and surgeon, alleging that the patient “died because of delay in treatment of a bowel perforation she developed as a complication of colon surgery.”

In July 2005, plaintiff’s attorney requested a copy of the CT scan, and the hospital responded that it could not be located. Plaintiff attempted to get the CT scan from the surgeon, the radiology group under contract with the hospital, and the hospital at which the patient ultimately died, but was not provided a copy until three years later. The CT scan revealed that Dr. Anderson “failed to note and report evidence of free air in [patient’s] abdomen, indicative of a bowel perforation.” By the time the CT scan was provided, it was too late to add Dr. Anderson, the radiologist, as a defendant.

While the parties to an arbitration agreement may agree to “arbitrate threshold issues concerning the arbitration agreement,” issues concerning whether a contract was actually formed should be decided by a court.

In Edwards v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, No. W2016-02553-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2017), plaintiff sued defendant nursing home for wrongful death and health care liability claims regarding the death of plaintiff’s mother. Defendant moved to compel arbitration, attaching to its motion an arbitration agreement and Appointment of Surrogate. The Appointment of Surrogate was signed by a different daughter on April 18, 2012, and purported to give the daughter “authority to make all health care related decisions for” the mother, although the daughter’s name was erroneously put into the blank instead of the mother’s name. This Surrogate form was signed by the mother the next day. The arbitration agreement had been signed by the other daughter on April 18, “the day before Mother signed the Appointment of Surrogate form.”

The trial court denied defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that the other daughter “did not have the authority to make a health care decision on behalf of Mother pursuant to the Tennessee Health Care Decisions Act, regardless of any discrepancy about the dates on the relevant documents.” The trial court pointed out that Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-1806 provides that a “surrogate may make a health care decision for a patient who is an adult…if, and only if: The patient has been determined by the designated physician to lack capacity…” Here, Mother’s physician specifically noted on April 20th that Mother did not lack capacity. Accordingly, the trial court “concluded that [the other sister] did not have the authority to sign the arbitration agreement on Mother’s behalf as her surrogate.” Further, the trial court noted that because the form listed the daughter’s name instead of the mother’s, it was “flawed and as such void from the beginning.” The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Social media and the ability to broadcast one’s opinions across the internet are raising many new issues in defamation law. A recent Tennessee case held that when a Facebook post and picture are posted together, they must be considered together and the communication should be analyzed in its entirety.

In Weidlich v. Rung, No. M2017-00045-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2017), defendant sued plaintiff for defamation over a post plaintiff made on Facebook. Plaintiff and defendant had both attended a heated school board meeting regarding the potential formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance at their local high school. Defendant was in favor of the group, while plaintiff “expressed strong opposition to the formation.” During this time, plaintiff’s wife “made tentative plans to run for” the school board. At a subsequent meeting, defendant saw plaintiff’s vehicle in the parking lot. On the back of the vehicle, plaintiff had a sticker with the Confederate flag and the word “SECEDE;” a sticker with the words “God, Family, The South” next to another Confederate flag; and another sticker that said “The League of the South,” which Defendant testified was a hate group. Defendant took a picture of these stickers and posted it to her Facebook wall, along with the caption: “Free Bonus Prize. The Fisty Family are also white supremacist! We’ll need to keep this handy come election time.”

Plaintiff sued for defamation based on this Facebook post. The General Sessions Court ruled for defendant, finding that plaintiff “had been unable to establish damages.” In the trial court, plaintiff had a witness testify that the witness stopped using plaintiff’s mechanic shop and had spent around $7,000 using a different service provider. The trial court ruled for plaintiff and awarded him $7,000 in damages and $5,000 in attorney’s fees. In its order, the trial court found that the statement was defamatory, that it was made maliciously, and that at the time of posting neither plaintiff nor his wife were public figures. The Court of Appeals reversed this ruling.

In Commercial Bank & Trust Co. v. Children’s Anesthesiologists, P.C., No. E2016-01747-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2017), plaintiffs were the legal guardian of a minor who, after a shunt revision, was no longer able to walk. Plaintiffs filed an HLCA suit, and after trial, the jury returned a verdict for defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, raising four issues.

First, plaintiffs asserted that “the Trial Court erred in allowing testimony that implied that [the minor’s] parents came to this country as refugees.” Because plaintiffs did not object to this line of questioning at trial, though, this issue was deemed waived.

Second, plaintiffs alleged that it was error to not allow a certain exhibit to be taken into the jury room. During cross examination of one of the defendant doctors, plaintiffs’ counsel used a piece of paper on which “standard of care” was handwritten, and the following words were typed: “The practice that protects the patient from unnecessary risk of serious harm.” After defendant doctor said she agreed with that statement, plaintiffs’ counsel attempted to file the paper as an exhibit. The trial court marked it for identification purposes only, then later refused to let it be taken to the jury deliberation room. The Court of Appeals held that this was not error, pointing out first that plaintiffs’ counsel failed to object at trial, and further that the alleged exhibit was “needless presentation of cumulative evidence, since the statement contained in [the exhibit] was read to [defendant doctor] at trial, and she testified that she agreed with the statement.” (internal quotation omitted). In addition, the Court noted that because the statement was so general, it would have likely “resulted in confusion by giving this written statement undue weight over the oral testimony on that issue.”