Being incarcerated does not constitute extraordinary cause and does not waive the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of the HCLA.

In Kinsey v. Schwarz, No. M2016-02028-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2017), a pro se prison inmate filed an HCLA suit regarding an allegedly “botched surgical procedure performed on his lower back.” Defendants included two doctors and a medical center. In plaintiff’s complaint, he stated that he “attempted to give [the two doctors] pre-suit notice on February 8, 2016 at their place of employment (or business address) by certified mail returned receipt as required…, but that both notices were returned to him as ‘refused’ by the defendants.” Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 28, 2016, without sending additional notice, and he did not attach a certificate of good faith.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss based on the lack of pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith, prompting plaintiff to file “a document entitled ‘Certificate of Good Faith’ in which he asked the trial court to waive the requirement that he file a certificate of good faith because of his alleged inability to comply due to reasons outside of his control.” Specifically, plaintiff stated that the prison doctor “refuse[d] to get involved in this case” and that his incarceration meant he was “unable to freely consult with other physicians.”

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Substantial compliance is sufficient to meet the requirements regarding documents to be attached to a Tennessee HCLA complaint, even when the defendant is a governmental entity.

In Clary v. Miller, No. M2016-00794-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2017), plaintiff served timely pre-suit notice of her HCLA complaint, and attached a HIPAA-compliant authorization to the pre-suit notice. When she later filed her complaint, she attached copies of the pre-suit notice and proof of service, but she failed to attach copies of the HIPAA authorization.

Defendants, which included a medical center considered a governmental entity, moved to dismiss on the basis that the HIPAA authorizations were not attached to the complaint. The trial court granted the motion, finding that plaintiff substantially complied with the HCLA requirements but that “strict compliance was required because [defendant] was a governmental entity.” The Court of Appeals, however, reversed this holding.

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After obtaining a default judgment on claims for conversion and malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must “prove the extent of her claimed damages,” and defendant should be given “an opportunity to rebut her evidence or present evidence of his own on the question of damages for those claims before entering a final judgment.”

In Husk v. Thompson, No. M2016-01481-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2017), plaintiff and defendant had lived together before a contentious separation. Plaintiff was charged with domestic assault and ordered not to return to the shared apartment. Plaintiff continued paying her half of the rent for three months even though she was not living there. When defendant failed to pay his portion of the rent due for the apartment two months in a row, plaintiff paid the full amount. Further, there were issues regarding personal property.

Plaintiff filed this suit for conversion, unjust enrichment, and malicious prosecution. Defendant received notice of the suit and was then served at the sheriff’s office, but he did not file an answer. Plaintiff moved for a default judgment, and when defendant did not show up to the hearing, the default judgment was entered. On the day of the default judgment hearing, the trial court entered an order granting plaintiff $15,577.16 in damages.

Defendant appealed both the entry of default judgment and the damages awarded. The Court of Appeals first affirmed the entry of default judgment, noting that defendant “asserted that he failed to file a timely response because he ‘believed no action would be taken in the civil case’ until the criminal cases involving [plaintiff] were resolved.” The Court found that this argument was “equivalent to a claim of ignorance of the law,” and that “ignorance of the law is not excusable neglect or a proper ground for relief” from a default judgment. (internal citation and quotation omitted). In addition, the Court rejected defendant’s assertion that the judgment should be set aside because he did not receive notice of the motion for default. The Court noted that this was really a credibility issues, and that the trial court had decided against defendant. The Court further noted that “the fact that [defendant] received both the complaint and a copy of the default judgment calls into question the veracity of his claim that he did not receive the motion for default judgment.”

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Just because a plaintiff’s actions may have arguably contributed to creating a dangerous condition does not mean summary judgment for defendant is guaranteed in a premises liability case.

In Rader v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc., No. E2016-01677-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2017), plaintiff had called in a catering to-go order to defendant restaurant. The order was called in the day before and included at least one bag of ice. Per plaintiff’s normal practice when ordering catering, she gave the restaurant a pick-up time earlier than she anticipated arriving to ensure that the food would be ready. On the day of the accident, plaintiff called the restaurant when she “got off the exit,” then worked her way through “stop and go” traffic. Upon her arrival, she gave her credit card to the manager and was told the food was on the ledge. When she picked up the bags, including the bag containing the ice, water fell onto the floor and plaintiff slipped and fell. The parties agreed that there was no water on the floor when plaintiff entered and that the water came from ice that had melted and/or created condensation in the bag. Plaintiff testified that when she felt the bag of ice, it was “all water.”

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An exculpatory agreement contained in a contract for transportation services may be enforceable against a plaintiff claiming ordinary negligence.

In Copeland v. Healthsouth/Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital, L.P., No. W2016-02499-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2017), plaintiff was recovering from knee surgery in a hospital and had a follow-up appointment with his surgeon. The hospital helped arrange for defendant transportation service to take plaintiff to this appointment. “After the appointment, [plaintiff] was injured when he fell while getting back into the MedicOne transport van.” Before being transported by defendant, plaintiff signed several documents. One stated that the van provided was “not an ambulance and no care will be given by the…technician.” The second specified that it was for “transportation services” and that “there are inherent risks associated with such transportation which pose a risk of harm or injury.” This agreement also contained a release, which stated that plaintiff “SPECIFICALLY DISCHARGES MEDIC ONE RELATED PARTIES FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS ARISING DIRECTLY FROM OR AS A RESULT OF THE NEGLIGENCE (BUT NOT GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR WILLFUL MISCONDUCT ) OF MEDIC ONE RELATED PARTIES.”

Plaintiff filed this negligence suit against the transportation company and the hospital that arranged the service. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, finding that the release was enforceable and waived all claims of ordinary negligence. Plaintiff appealed, but only as to defendant transportation company, and summary judgment was affirmed.

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A plaintiff cannot claim invasion of privacy based on information that she herself has already disclosed in a public filing.

In Graham v. Archer, No. E2016-00743-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of an invasion of privacy case. A pro se plaintiff had previously filed an HCLA case against defendants, which was ultimately dismissed. In that case, plaintiff alleged that defendants had failed to provide her with requested medical records, and the defendants responded with affidavits “demonstrating that they had complied with or attempted to comply with each of [plaintiff’s] requests for medical records.” These affidavits were the basis for plaintiff’s subsequent invasion of privacy suit. Plaintiff argued “that, by filing the affidavits, the defendants disclosed her name, address, telephone numbers, and the identity of, and contact information for, her physicians,” constituting an invasion of privacy.

The trial court dismissed the case, finding that plaintiff had no reasonable expectation of privacy for this information because it was contained in pleadings she herself had filed in the HCLA case. That holding was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

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The Tennessee Claims Commission has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over a claim by a plaintiff that the state “negligently supervised and retained a prison guard who sexually assaulted [an] inmate.” In Vetrano v. State, No. M2015-02474-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2017), the Court reversed the claim commission’s dismissal of a negligence suit. Plaintiff alleged that she was an inmate at a state women’s prison and was sexually assaulted by a prison guard. She filed an action with the Tennessee Claims Commission alleging that “state employees negligently supervised and retained the prison guard.” According to plaintiff, another inmate had filed a complaint against the guard for assault, and the guard’s supervisors “had actual and/or constructive knowledge that [the guard] was unfit for the job of corrections officer, and it was reasonably foreseeable that he posed an actual threat of harm to the inmates with whom he came in contact.”

The State moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that under the Claims Commission Act it “could not be liable ‘for the willful, malicious, or criminal acts of state employees.’” (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(d)). The Claims Commission granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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Depending on the circumstances, a police officer pulling a handcuffed person by the chain linking the two cuffs may be enough to support a claim for assault and battery in Tennessee, even without evidence of a significant injury.

In Stafford v. Jackson County, Tennessee, No. M2016-01883-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 4, 2017), plaintiff sued a sheriff’s deputy, the sheriff, and the county after being arrested by the deputy. The deputy had pulled plaintiff’s husband over for speeding, and plaintiff and her son arrived on the scene after hearing about it on a police scanner. Plaintiff approached the deputy, and though there was a dispute regarding what was said and how cooperative or uncooperative plaintiff was, the deputy ultimately handcuffed and arrested plaintiff for obstructing a traffic stop. Regarding the handcuffing procedure, plaintiff testified in her deposition that the officer first cuffed her right hand, then her left, “then pulled me up by the chain, by the middle of the cuff, the chain.” Plaintiff testified that when the chain was pulled, it was painful and she screamed. When she arrived at the jail, plaintiff told personnel there that her wrists and shoulders hurt, and after her release she went to the local medical center, where she was x-rayed and given medication for her blood pressure.

Plaintiff brought suit, asserting several theories of liability. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims, finding specifically that plaintiff had not established the elements of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, and that plaintiff had not shown damages to support her assault and battery claim. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of the assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. On appeal, summary judgment on the emotional distress claim was affirmed, but the holding on the assault and battery claim was reversed.

A party’s failure to supplement its discovery responses or deposition testimony can result in a jury verdict for that party being vacated. For businesses, this duty to supplement may include the testimony of its employees.

In Collier v. Roussis, No. E2016-01591-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2017), a minor filed suit through his parents for birth injuries “allegedly suffered by plaintiff when his mother had an allergic reaction during labor.” The named defendants were the doctor treating the mother and the hospital where plaintiff was born. Much of the relevant testimony surrounded how and how often plaintiff’s mother’s blood pressure was being monitored, with the medical chart showing two blood pressure readings by a fetal monitor and one by defendant doctor. The trial court directed a verdict for defendants on one issue, and the jury returned a verdict that neither the doctor nor “the nurses employed by the Hospital were” negligent. Plaintiff appealed, citing multiple issues for review.

First, on an issue that ended up being dispositive of the appeal, plaintiff argued that “the trial court erred in allowing previously undisclosed testimony from the nurses, testimony which was inconsistent with the nurses’ earlier deposition testimony.” During their depositions, two nurses who worked for the hospital and treated plaintiff’s mother testified that they had no independent recollection beyond what was in the medical record. Mother’s file only indicated that her blood pressure was recorded three times during the relevant period. At trial, however, both of these nurses testified that counsel for the hospital had shown them pictures that plaintiff’s family took in the hospital room, and that those pictures had caused them to remember additional facts. Specifically, they both testified that the mother’s blood pressure was being monitored by a special machine. One stated that because the machine was in use the mother “was not hypotensive, or we would have treated that,” and another stated the nurses “were continuously glancing over at that…monitor to see what her blood pressure was.” Over plaintiff’s objection, the trial court allowed the new testimony, but the Court of Appeals ruled that this was error and the judgment should be vacated.

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HIPAA-compliant authorization forms continue to cause trouble for medical malpractice (now called “health care liability action” or ‘HCLA”) plaintiffs in Tennessee, with a recent plaintiff having his case dismissed due to his failure to fill in the portion of the form that lists who was authorized to make disclosures thereunder.

In Lawson v. Knoxville Dermatology Group, P.C., No. E2017-00077-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 1, 2017), plaintiff filed suit against “a dermatology practice and a certified physician’s assistant employed by the practice.” The underlying injury occurred when plaintiff fell off an allegedly improperly secured examination table. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff had failed to substantially comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), the HCLA provision that requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant authorization. Specifically, defendants pointed out that plaintiff’s “authorization form did not list which individual(s) or organization(s) were authorized to make disclosures of the specified medical records.”

The trial court granted the motions to dismiss and entered an order dismissing all of plaintiff’s claims without prejudice. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal only as to the dermatology group, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal, defendant pointed out that “the name or other specific identification of the person(s), or class of persons, authorized to make the requested use or disclosure” is listed as a “core element of the authorization” by the Code of Federal Regulations. (citation omitted). Defendant asserted that because this “core element” was left blank, plaintiff did not substantially comply with the HCLA requirements and dismissal was appropriate. According to defendant, “the medical authorization provided by [plaintiff] was insufficient to allow [defendant] to access relevant medical records to mount a defense.”

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