Where a defendant knew of decedent’s past suicide attempt, knew she was suffering from depression, and knew he had just ended his relationship with her, the trial court was wrong to grant summary judgment on a negligence case related to him showing her an unsecured gun in his home to which she had access.

In In re Estate of Cotten, No. M2016-02402-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2017), the personal representative of decedent’s estate brought suit against defendant for negligence based on “the defendant’s alleged acts of displaying and failing to properly store and prevent accessibility to the firearm with which decedent ultimately committed suicide.” Decedent was married and had a son when she met and began an affair with defendant. Decedent was a nurse at Skyline Hospital, and defendant was a psychiatrist there. Decedent divorced her husband in 2012, but she retained equal co-parenting time of her son. Two years after beginning the relationship, decedent moved in with defendant, at which time defendant admitted “observ[ing] that Decedent suffered crying spells and appeared to struggle with the loss of her job and eviction from her previous residence.” Decedent began seeing another psychiatrist at the hospital and was given medication for depression. Defendant was aware of decedent’s treatment.

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The statute of limitations for a claim falling under the GTLA is one year. In Thigpen v. Trousdale County Highway Department, No. M2016-02556-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 19, 2017), a pro se plaintiff filed suit against the highway department and two individuals claiming that they damaged his home while using equipment to resurface a nearby road. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Because the highway department was a governmental entity, this suit fell under the GTLA. Immunity was waived because the GTLA provides that governmental entities may be sued “for injuries resulting from the negligent operation by any employee of a motor vehicle or other equipment while in the scope of employment.” (Tenn. Code Ann. 29-20-202(a)). The GTLA also provides, however, that any action must be brought within one-year of the cause of action accruing. Here, the alleged damage occurred three years before the complaint was filed. Dismissal was accordingly affirmed.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed dismissal of the two individuals named in the complaint, noting that “the GTLA prohibits claims for damages against governmental employees when governmental immunity has been waived,” and that “the complaint does not allege that the individuals acted in an intentional matter or outside the scope of their employment.”

A claim that a patient who burned himself should not have been left alone with a hot cup of coffee was determined to fall under the Tennessee HCLA.

In Youngblood ex rel. Estate of Vaughn v. River Park Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2017), an 86-year-old patient had hip surgery at defendant hospital. Either the same day or the day after surgery, a nurse brought the patient a cup of coffee and sat it on his bedside table in his ICU room. The patient then spilled the coffee on himself and was burned.

The patient later died of apparently unrelated causes, and his estate filed this action. Plaintiff’s claim was essentially that the patient “was an 86 year old man; who was in ICU following a major surgery; was on pain medication; had visible tremors in his hand; and had an O2 monitor on his index finder. [Patient] should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” Plaintiff did not give pre-suit notice or file a certificate of good faith with her complaint, as she asserted that this claim was not subject to the HCLA. The trial court dismissed the action, finding that it did fall under the HCLA, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where a doctor had time to confer with her colleagues twice, even shortly, before determining a course of action for her patient, the Tennessee trial court erred by giving the jury an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. The jury verdict for defendants was accordingly vacated, and the case was remanded for a new trial.

In Vandyke v. Foulk, No. E2016-00584-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2017), plaintiff filed an HCLA suit related to the death of her newborn son shortly after his birth. Plaintiff was 24 weeks pregnant with twins when she was transferred to defendant hospital for pre-term labor. Once it became apparent that delivery was imminent, plaintiff was moved to the operating room, where her delivery team consisted of Dr. Foulk, the attending physician, and two fourth year residents, Goodwin and Hobbs. Baby A was born vaginally, after which time Baby B “settled into a transverse or sideways position.” Dr. Foulk rotated Baby B to a head-down position, and Baby B suffered a drop in heart rate necessitating a quick delivery. Dr. Foulk had a more senior attending physician, Dr. Herrell, paged, and Dr. Foulk and the two residents discussed what should be done. When Dr. Herrell arrived, he and Dr. Foulk assessed the situation and determined that they would attempt a delivery by forceps. Dr. Herrell tried to place a second forcep two times and “met resistance.” Baby B was then delivered by c-section, and he had a “skull fracture a scalp avulsion, meaning that his scalp was no longer attached…” Baby B was transferred to the NICU and died a few hours later.

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Where a plaintiff who slipped and fell in water at a concert could not show how long that particular spill had been on the floor, and could only show that two other spills had occurred in the same area as her fall, summary judgment was affirmed based on lack of constructive notice.

In Katz v. The Sports Authority of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN, No. M2016-01874-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2017), plaintiff was attending a concert at Bridgestone Arena when she slipped on fell in a puddle on the floor. Her fall occurred between sections 115 and 116 of the 100 level concourse. “[J]ust before she fell, she noticed three people standing nearby, one of whom was carrying a small broom and dustpan.”

Plaintiff filed a premises liability suit, and defendant moved for summary judgment. In response to defendant’s motion, plaintiff “pointed to evidence that: (1) three of Defendant’s employees were standing nearby at the time that she fell; (2) employees were instructed not to clean up until after the concert was over; and (3) at least one other slip-and-fall incident occurred in the same general area about an hour and twenty minutes before [plaintiff’s] fall.” The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where the expert causation testimony in aT ennessee HCLA (medical malpractice) case was deemed too speculative, summary judgment was affirmed.

In Franklin-Mansuo v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc. D/B/A Saint Francis Hopsital, No. W2016-01623-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 6, 2017), plaintiff filed an HCLA action based on the death of his mother. Mother had arrived at defendant hospital’s ER with difficulty breathing and swallowing, and was treated by a physician’s assistant (PA). The PA ordered a CT scan, and then consulted by phone with an ear, nose and throat physician (ENT). The ENT stated that the mother needed to be admitted to the ICU. The PA, however, thought that the ENT was coming to the hospital to oversee the admission. Almost three hours passed, at which point another doctor at the hospital admitted the mother to the ICU. At some point during her transfer or shortly after her ICU admission, the mother lost her airway and suffered brain damage. She eventually died ten days later, though her death certificate listed the cause of death as a stroke.

Plaintiff brought suit against several defendants, but by the time relevant to this appeal the only remaining defendant was the doctor who was the PA’s supervising physician on the day of the incident. The doctor filed for summary judgment, asserting that plaintiff’s experts were not qualified to testify as to the applicable standard of care and that the causation testimony they offered was too speculative. The trial court agreed, granting the motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In at least some situations, a surviving spouse can properly file a pro se wrongful death complaint, because the decedent’s right of action actually “passes to” the surviving spouse under Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes.

In Beard v. Branson, No. M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 30. 2017), plaintiff’s wife died of sepsis after being treated by defendants. Plaintiff filed a pro se wrongful death action, and defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint “was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and, as a non-attorney, [plaintiff] could not file a lawsuit for another in a representative capacity.” After the motions to dismiss were filed and after the one-year statute of limitations had run, plaintiff retained an attorney, who filed a notice of appearance and an amended complaint. The trial court denied the motions to dismiss, holding that plaintiff “was permitted to file the wrongful death action pro se because, under section 20-5-106, the decedent’s cause of action passed to [plaintiff] as the surviving spouse, and the decedent had no other statutory beneficiaries.”

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When a restaurant manager who was working in a locked back office was raped after a robbery, the injuries did not arise out of her employment and she was not limited to a workers’ compensation claim.

In Doe v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc., No. W2016-01817-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2017), plaintiff brought suit after being raped in the restaurant’s office. Plaintiff was a hospitality manager at defendant restaurant, and on the night of the incident “she was in the restaurant’s office performing closing procedures with the door to the office locked.” She answered a knock on the door, and a masked man entered the office, had her open the office safe, took the money from the safe, then moved her to a chair, restrained her and raped her. The man was later identified as a restaurant employee who had left work that evening, “jammed the emergency door to prevent it from closing,” and changed in his vehicle before committing the robbery and rape.

Plaintiff brought suit against defendant restaurant for various tort claims, including intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent hiring, intentional misrepresentation, misrepresentation by concealment, vicarious liability, and constructive discharge. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that “[b]ecause Plaintiffs’ claims arose out of and in the course of her employment, workers’ compensation [was] Plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy against P.F. Chang’s.” The Trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where a tenant told her landlord about a leak in her kitchen ceiling, the landlord was liable when the light fixture in the ceiling later fell and injured the tenant.

In Holloway v. Group Properties LLC, No. W2016-02417-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2017), plaintiff noticed a water leak in her kitchen ceiling about two months after moving into her rented apartment. She told her landlord, who “inspected the property but did not find the leak [and] therefore, he did not contact a plumber.” There was a dispute as to whether plaintiff contacted defendant landlord again regarding the leak, but eventually the light fixture in the kitchen fell, striking plaintiff and causing water to fall onto the floor. Plaintiff slipped and fell in the water and was injured.

Plaintiff filed suit in sessions court and won a judgment of $4,940. Defendant appealed to circuit court, where plaintiff was awarded $5,040. The circuit court specifically found that defendant “was on notice of a leak coming from the second floor of the duplex.” Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Defendant asserted two arguments on appeal: 1) that plaintiff’s complaint “fail[ed] to state a claim for relief under the [Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA)],” and 2) that plaintiff’s “sole recourse [was] pursuant to URLTA.”

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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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