In Hoynacki v. Hoynacki, No. E2015-02084-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned summary judgment in a case about whether a dad had a duty to hold or stabilize a ladder for his son.

Defendant father owned an RV, and while he was camping in North Carolina near where his son lived, he called his son and asked him to help wax the RV. The two spent Saturday and Sunday waxing the RV. “When the RV’s height required the use of a ladder, plaintiff got on it to wax the top parts, and defendant stayed on the ground to stabilize and secure the ladder.” On their second day of work, plaintiff was on the ladder waxing the front part of the RV above the windshield. The ground where the ladder was sitting sloped away from the RV such that one side of the ladder was lower than the other. Defendant placed the ladder in this position, and then walked to the other side of the RV while plaintiff was working. When plaintiff began to come down the ladder, the ladder fell and plaintiff was seriously injured.

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In Redick v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, No. M2016-00428-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2016), the Court addressed the need for a certificate of good faith in an HCLA (f/k/a Tennessee medical malpractice) claim when the breach of duty question falls within the common knowledge exception, but the causation portion of the claim would require expert testimony.

Here, plaintiff was admitted to the hospital with complaints of dizziness and falling. Certain fall precautions were put into place during her stay. Five days after she was admitted, a hospital employee was assisting her in using a portable toilet and allegedly did not follow the prescribed fall precautions—the toilet was not put within reach of the bed, and the employee did not adequately assist plaintiff in getting back to her bed. Plaintiff fell when trying to return to her bed and struck the bedside table, which prompted this suit.

Before filing suit, plaintiff did not give pre-suit notice under the HCLA, and she failed to file a certificate of good faith with her complaint. In response to defendant hospital’s motion to dismiss with prejudice due to the lack of a certificate of good faith, plaintiff asserted that “her claims [fell] within the common knowledge exception such that expert proof is not required, thus forgiving her failure to file a certificate of good faith.” After a hearing, the trial court held: “While this Court finds this case is appropriate for application of the common knowledge exception, expert testimony would still be required on the element of causation to show that ‘as a proximate result of the defendant’s negligent act or omission, the plaintiff suffered injuries which would not otherwise have occurred.’” On appeal, the ruling was affirmed.

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In Hamilton v. Holderman, No. M2015-02302-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2015), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a damages award in a conversion case.

In the underlying dispute, plaintiffs had rented a furnished house and barn to defendants, which the defendants argued they had orally agreed to buy. Plaintiffs filed a forcible entry and detainer warrant in general sessions court, and defendants eventually vacated the property. When defendants left, they took “certain furnishings and other personalty owned by [plaintiffs]” with them, and this suit for conversion followed.

Plaintiffs initially filed in general sessions court and were awarded $24,999 in damages, the full jurisdictional limit. Defendants appealed to circuit court, where a jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs in the amount of $40,000. Defendants appealed that verdict to the Court of Appeals, arguing that there was not “material evidence in the record to support the jury’s verdict of damages for $40,000.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the award.

In Lacy v. Mitchell, No. M2016-00677-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2016), the trial court dismissed plaintiff’s case, finding that her claim fell under the Health Care Liability Act and that she uncontestedly failed to follow the HCLA’s pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements. Interestingly, however, the Court of Appeals overturned a portion of the dismissal, finding that there was at least a chance that one of plaintiff’s claims fell outside the ambit of the HCLA.

In February 2015, plaintiff visited a chiropractor for treatment on her back. As the basis for this action, plaintiff alleged that during the visit the defendant chiropractor “jumped two times on [plaintiff’s] back” while she was lying on the treatment table, and that “as he walked out the door [the chiropractor] beat Plaintiff…in the back with her medical folder.”

Plaintiff filed this case pro se against both the chiropractor and the clinic in which he practiced, and the defendants moved for summary judgment based on plaintiff’s failure to give pre-suit notice and file a certificate of good faith under the HCLA. Plaintiff argued that she need not follow these procedural requirements “because her claims were for ‘beating and assault,’ rather than health care liability.” The trial court, however, granted defendant’s motion and dismissed the case in total.

In Thompson v. Best Buy Stores, L.P., No. E2015-02304-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling that an employer had no duty to prevent an employee from leaving the premises in his own car.

Plaintiff was an employee at a Best Buy store (“defendant”). Before work one day, plaintiff received a package in the mail containing “a chemical cousin of valium,” which he had ordered off the internet. Plaintiff testified that he took three drops of the substance before reporting to work that day, and that “he remembers clocking in, but after that, he has no memory of anything else that happened that day.”

During work, one of plaintiff’s co-workers told the assistant sales manager on duty that “plaintiff was acting slow, tired and not very responsive.” The manager made the decision that plaintiff should not operate a piece of heavy machinery in the store warehouse, and he eventually told plaintiff to clock out and end his shift early. The manager noted at trial that no one at the store mentioned or suspected that plaintiff was on any drugs. He also stated that he did not tell plaintiff he had to go home or leave the premises, but simply to clock out. After plaintiff clocked out, he apparently got into his car to head home and was in a car accident, wherein his car hit a median wall then bounced into a pickup truck, totaling both vehicles.

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An article in Becker’s Hospital Review demonstrates the need for careful review of any article that purports to give information about medical malpractice (which Tennessee now calls “health care liability”) lawsuits.

The article purports to list the number of filings per state per 100,000 residents and ranks Tennesseans as the 5th highest filers of malpractice lawsuits – at the rate of 33 per 100,000 people.  That would mean that Tennesseans file about 2145 such lawsuits per year (we have a little over 6,500,000 people living here).

But that number is wrong.  Information compiled by Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts demonstrates that there were 374 medical malpractice suits filed in 2013-2014 and 356 suits filed in 2014-2015. (Data is kept on a July 1 – June 30 fiscal year; 2015-2016 data is not yet publicly available). My guess is that the number of suits filed in all of 2015 was down from what it was in fiscal year 2014-2015, but even assuming that it was the same (356), the rate of filed suits was less than 5.5 per 100,000.  That simply didn’t happen.

In J.A.C. v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, No. W2016-00024-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2016), a plaintiff lost her chance to pursue her Tennessee medical malpractice claim due to an insufficient HIPAA release form.

Plaintiff was forty weeks pregnant when she went to the defendant hospital with lower back and abdominal pain on January 23, 2012, and she was found to have elevated blood pressure. Plaintiff was nonetheless discharged. She had her baby the next day, January 24, 2012, and a placental abruption was noted. The baby, a girl, allegedly “sustained severe brain damage that would not have occurred but for the Providers’ actions in failing to properly treat [plaintiff].”

Plaintiff filed this action on May 1, 2015, purportedly on behalf of both herself and her daughter. Plaintiff alleged that she followed the pre-suit notice requirements of the HCLA, but defendants moved to dismiss the case based on an insufficient HIPAA form. Defendants argued that, because the HIPAA form was insufficient to fulfill the statutory requirements, plaintiff was not entitled to the 120-day extension provided by the HCLA, and that her suit was thus filed outside the three-year statute of repose.

In Matherne v. West, No. E2015-02061-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals overturned summary judgment in a premises liability case notwithstanding a claimed “open and obvious” danger.

Plaintiff’s family was renting a cabin in the mountains from defendants. The pictures online showed that the cabin had two parking spaces, one being elevated several feet along a slope from the other. A safety rail went around a portion of the upper parking space but did not cover the entire drop-off area. On plaintiff’s second day at the cabin, she was stepping out of her vehicle after buckling her daughter into a the car when her first foot landed on the concrete but her second foot did not, causing her to fall onto the lower parking area and injure her arm.

Plaintiff filed suit, and defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.  In its findings of fact, the trial court noted that plaintiff had seen the two separate parking levels and knew about them; that she saw that the rail covered only a portion of the upper space; that she had told the children in her family not to play on the upper parking space, as they could fall and be injured, and had asked her husband to park on that space to prevent the children from playing there; that it was light when she fell; that nothing prevented her from having someone back the car off the parking space before entering it; that the parked car was approximately three to three and a half feet from the edge of the drop-off; and that there was sufficient room for her to get into and out of the car without falling. The trial court concluded that “plaintiff had absolute and actual knowledge of the potentially dangerous condition,” that the condition was “open and obvious,” and that plaintiff “was at least 50% at fault for her fall and any injuries allegedly sustained therefrom.”

On appeal, the Court overturned the trial court, reversing the grant of summary judgment. The Court quoted extensively from several Supreme Court decisions, noting that “an owner…of premises has a duty to exercise reasonable care with regard to…business invitees on the premises,” and that a Supreme Court decision “held that a duty may exist even where the injury-causing condition is alleged to be ‘open and obvious’ to the plaintiff.” (quoting Rice v. Sabir, 979 S.W.2d 305 (Tenn. 1998)). In Coln v. City of Savannah, 966 S.W.2d 34 (Tenn. 1998), the Supreme Court stated:

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In Martin v. Powers, No. M2014-00647-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Oct. 24, 2016), the Tennessee Supreme Court analyzed the issue of whether a rental car being driven by a renter qualified as an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the plaintiff’s car insurance policy.

Plaintiff owned a bar, and he refused to serve alcohol to the defendant. When plaintiff followed defendant out to the parking lot, defendant got into a rental car that he had rented from Enterprise and intentionally drove into plaintiff, causing a knee injury.

During the course of the litigation, plaintiff “served [his insurance] with a copy of the summons and complaint for the purpose of bringing a claim under his uninsured motorist coverage.”  The insurance company argued that Enterprise was a self-insurer under certain Tennessee statutes, and that the accident thus “did not arise out of the ownership or use of an uninsured vehicle.” The trial court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, but the Supreme Court reversed.

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In Robinson v. Robbins, No. W2016-00381-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 19, 2016), the Court of Appeals addressed an issue regarding whether the savings statute applied when the defendant argued that the party in the second suit was different from the party named in the first suit.

This was an HCLA case, and plaintiffs first filed suit pro se. Their first complaint named the defendant as “Edward Todd Robins, MD, PC.” Within the body of the complaint, however, defendant was described in his individual capacity. When filing his answer, defendant included the language: “Comes now, Dr. E. Todd Robbins, P.C. as proper party for the above named Edward Todd Robbins, M.D., P.C…” Later in the suit, plaintiffs retained an attorney, who at some point in the first suit filed a motion “to clarify their intent to seek recovery from Defendant as an individual.” The trial court orally denied this motion, but “advised Plaintiffs that it would reconsider its ruling if they provided authority in support of their argument.” Before the order denying the motion was entered, plaintiffs took a voluntary dismissal of the first suit.

After giving proper pre-suit notice, plaintiffs filed their second suit, wherein they named “Edward Todd Robbins, M.D.” as defendant. Defendant moved to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, arguing that the first suit was filed against him in his corporate capacity and that the savings statute thus did not apply to a suit filed against him in his individual capacity, as the parties were not identical. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit, but this dismissal was reversed on appeal.

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