A city government cannot be held liable in tort for a drainage problem on a road it does not own or operate caused by a malfunctioning pipe it did not install.

In Walker v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, No. M2016-00030-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2018), plaintiff homeowner sued defendant city “for damages to his property caused by storm water runoff under the tort theory of a temporary continuous nuisance.” Plaintiff alleged that storm water runoff from the road he lived on flooded his property, basement and foundation each time it rained, and that he had asked defendant several times to fix a malfunctioning drainage pipe. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that a previous homeowner had actually installed the malfunctioning pipe and that the city was accordingly immune from suit under the GTLA. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The evidence submitted in support of defendant’s motion for summary judgment showed that the road plaintiff’s property was on was a state highway, not a city street, and that before plaintiff owned the property the state had “acquired a permanent drainage easement” from the former owners. The state had installed a drainage pipe that funneled water to a ditch, which then funneled water to a creek. Before plaintiff bought the property, however, the previous homeowners enclosed the ditch and put a drainage pipe under the ground where the ditch was previously located, using a mix of both concrete and corrugated metal pipe. Defendant city did not install the pipe or fill in the ditch in question.

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When an ATV accident plaintiff executed a release of her claim against the personal representative of the estate and filed that release in probate court, that release “served to release [her uninsured motorist insurance carrier] from any liability arising from [plaintiff’s] personal injury claim stemming from the ATV accident.”

In Johanssen v. Sharber, No. M2017-00639-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 12, 2018), plaintiff was injured in an ATV accident. The driver of the ATV died, and plaintiff filed a tort claim in circuit court against the personal representative of the driver’s estate. Plaintiff’s uninsured motorist carrier, GEICO, was also served and joined as a party. Plaintiff also filed a claim against the estate in probate court “for medical bills and personal injury.”

While the circuit court case was pending, plaintiff “executed a release of claim in the Probate Court without GEICO’s consent.” The release stated:

The undersigned, [plaintiff], acknowledges full and complete satisfaction of the claim filed against the Estate and releases the Personal Representative from any further liability on the claim of $150,000.00 that the undersigned filed against the Estate.

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In some circumstances, a typed name may qualify as a signature on a pleading.

In Jones v. Mortgage Menders, LLC, No. M2017-01452-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2018), plaintiff initially filed his complaint in 2006, then took a voluntary nonsuit on February 12, 2016. Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a “purported complaint” on February 2, 2017, attempting to re-assert the original claims. This pleading “featured his typewritten name rather than his handwritten signature.”

The court clerk alerted plaintiff to the lack of signature , but instead of signing the complaint, plaintiff “signed a certificate of service.” Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding that the lack of signature meant that the complaint did “not satisfy the signature requirement under Rule 11,” and further finding that the purported complaint was so deficient as to not be a complaint at all. The Court of Appeals overturned these holdings.

Where a landlord evicted a tenant by locking him out and bypassed the legal process outlined in the lease, the landlord was liable for conversion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed an award based on “the present day value of the personal property which Plaintiff claimed was not returned.”

In Philp v. Southeast Enterprises, LLC, No. M2016-02046-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018), plaintiff tenant had rented an office space from defendant landlord. After plaintiff failed to pay rent for two months, defendant “changed the locks on the doors and posted a notice on the building entrance stating that Plaintiff had been evicted.” Plaintiff filed suit for various causes of action related to the lease and eviction, including a claim for conversion and punitive damages. After a trial, the trial court found that defendant was liable for conversion, which the Court of Appeals affirmed. The trial court also awarded plaintiff $5,000 in punitive damages, and although the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to award punitive damages, it vacated the amount and instructed the trial court “to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law relative to the appropriate factors and enter judgment accordingly.”

Regarding the conversion claim, the Court of Appeals first affirmed that defendant was liable for conversion damages. The Court pointed out that “[b]y locking Plaintiff out, Defendants maintained possession of all of Plaintiff’s property inside the building.” The Court noted that “Defendants bypassed legal process and changed the locks on the door,” and that their “actions of wrongfully evicting Plaintiff from the property allowed them to exercise dominion and maintain control over Plaintiff’s personal property.” The finding that defendants were liable for conversion was thus affirmed.

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In a misdiagnosis Tennessee health care liability (medical malpractice) case, defendants seeking dismissal based on the statute of limitations were required to “establish that decedent was aware of the alleged misdiagnosis,” not just show that the misdiagnosis was made, in order to establish when the one-year limitation period began to run.

In Shaw v. Gross, No. W2017-00441-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018), plaintiff was the administrator of decedent’s estate, and the case involved allegations that decedent died as the result of a misdiagnosis. Decedent went to the emergency room on May 17, 2014, complaining of “rib-trunk pain and headache that resulted from a fall.” Defendant doctor ordered lab work and diagnosed decedent with dehydration, sending him home. Decedent returned the next day via ambulance and was diagnosed with sepsis and an inflamed gallbladder. Decedent died less than a month later, on June 14, 2014, and an autopsy report on June 18th confirmed his cause of death as “septic shock and gangrenous cholecystitis.”

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Where a defendant adds an affirmative defense asserting comparative fault against a non-party more than two years after the complaint was originally filed, such assertion may be appropriate and timely if the defendant was diligent in obtaining information about the potential tortfeasor.

In Santore v. Stevenson, No. W2017-01098-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2018), plaintiff was injured when he was hit by a vehicle at a truck stop. Plaintiff filed suit against Cordova Concrete, Inc. and its employee (Cordova) on July 8, 2014. At some later point, Cordova learned that a 911 call had been made from the accident scene, and it sent a subpoena to the City of Memphis to obtain a recording of the call. When the city did not respond, Cordova sent a public records request, and thereafter received an audio file of the call and a Background Event Chronology.

Cordova found a number listed in the chronology and called it multiple times, finally identifying the 911-caller as a truck driver. Cordova arranged to depose the truck driver on August 29, 2016, and during that deposition the caller stated that an Averitt truck hit plaintiff. Based on this information, on September 20, 2016, Cordova filed a motion to amend its answer and assert an affirmative defense of comparative fault against Averitt and its unknown driver. This filing came “more than two years after the complaint was filed but less than three months after obtaining the public records from the City of Memphis.” Cordova and plaintiff agreed to allow the amendment, and plaintiff then amended the complaint to add Averitt and the unknown driver as defendants.

If an HCLA plaintiff fails to provide proper pre-suit notice and files her first complaint after the statute of limitations has passed (but within the 120-day grace period), her case will not be saved by voluntarily dismissing and trying to use the savings statute to refile.

In Dortch v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, No. W2017-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2018), plaintiff filed a health care liability suit against defendants based on the death of her son following a surgery on April 3, 2014. On April 6, 2015, plaintiff’s counsel served a purported pre-suit notice of her HCLA claim on defendants, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121. This notice contained HIPAA authorization forms that “only permitted the recipient entity to send the medical records of [the deceased] to plaintiff’s counsel.” The statute, however, requires that the HIPAA forms included with the notice permit “the provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from each other provider being sent a notice.” (Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E)).

Plaintiff filed her initial complaint on July 1, 2015, after which defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the deficiencies in the pre-suit notice. Plaintiff then filed a notice of voluntary dismissal, and an order of dismissal was entered on September 17, 2015.

On July 6, 2016, plaintiff sent a second pre-suit notice to defendants, then she re-filed her complaint on September 16, 2016. Defendants moved to dismiss this complaint, alleging that plaintiff’s first complaint was untimely and that she was thus not entitled to take advantage of the one-year savings statute. The trial court agreed, granting the motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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If a plaintiff originally names a defendant then later voluntarily dismisses that defendant, the plaintiff may be able to re-name the defendant in an amended complaint pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 after another defendant asserts comparative fault against the previously nonsuited defendant. This result may not be affected by the fact that the same defendant was named as a potential comparative tortfeasor in the answer to the original complaint.

In Scales v. H.G. Hill Realty Co., LLC, No. M2017-00906-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 30, 2018), plaintiff fell in a grocery store on February 19, 2014. She filed suit against four entities that owned or operated the store on December 4, 2014 for various negligence and premises liability claims. The defendants included two entities related to Publix (the Publix defendants) and two related to the owners of the property (the Hill defendants). The Publix defendants filed an answer on January 8, 2015, in which they asserted as an affirmative defense the comparative fault of the Hill defendants.

After serving discovery requests on plaintiff, the Hill defendants filed a motion to compel. Plaintiff subsequently voluntarily dismissed the Hill defendants, with an order of dismissal without prejudice being entered on May 29, 2015.

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A door that opened into a lobby area and had no warning signs has been held to not be a dangerous condition under certain circumstances.

In Wimmer v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority d/b/a Erlanger Health System, No. E2017-00352-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 26, 2018), plaintiff had just finished a doctor’s appointment and was waiting for a van from her assisted living facility to pick her up. So that she could see the van approaching, she was standing just inside the building near the glass sliding entry doors, but she was not in the vestibule area between two sets of sliding doors. While she was waiting, a man in scrubs opened a door from a fire stairwell that opened into the lobby, and the door hit plaintiff, knocking her over and injuring her. The door was a “wooden door with a black metal frame surrounded by red brick.” Plaintiff testified that she “did not see the door until after she was hit,” and that she “didn’t even realize there was a door at that time because I wasn’t paying any attention to the fact that there might be a door there.” The door did not have any warning that it opened into the lobby, and it did not have a window panel, so people coming through the door could not see whether there was anyone on the other side.

At trial, both sides presented expert testimony. When asked whether the door was a dangerous condition, plaintiff’s expert testified that “as you learn more about what occurred, you can see why things could become hazardous, if certain sets of circumstances were to prevail…” He also testified that it would have been appropriate for the door to have a warning, and that if there had been a panel of glass in the door, it “may not stop it from happening, but they’ll at least have some idea that it’s getting ready to happen.” Plaintiff also called as a witness one of defendant’s former security employees, who testified that the door in question was “an odd door,” and that there were a few doors at defendant’s facility “that you can be standing there and someone may push that door out and you may not be—they may not know someone is standing on the other side.” He stated that he had taken reports of people being injured by doors during his employment with defendant.

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When a potential personal injury defendant dies after an alleged tort, the survival statute will extend the running of the statute of limitations “for a maximum of six months from the date of the death of the tortfeasor or until a personal representative has been appointed.” The fact that a plaintiff may not have actually discovered the death of the potential defendant is not relevant to the tolling of the statute of limitations.

In Putnam v. Leach, No. W2017-00728-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2018), plaintiff was injured in a car accident when defendant crossed the center line and struck her vehicle. The accident occurred on February 2, 2015. Defendant died on January 4, 2016, though plaintiff was unaware of this death. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant on February 2, 2016, and service was returned on February 26, 2016 with a note “indicating that [defendant] was deceased.” Plaintiff’s attorney, however, did not read the note at that time. On July 18, 2016, plaintiff called her attorney to check on the case, at which time the attorney saw the note indicating that defendant was deceased. On October 21, 2016, plaintiff petitioned the probate court to appoint an administrator ad litem, and plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming the administrator ad litem on October 31, 2016.

Defendant administrator filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff’s complaint was not timely filed. The trial court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.