COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Where plaintiff failed to produce a photograph of an accident scene in response to requests for production, despite a consent order compelling a response to the discovery requests, the Court of Appeals affirmed the exclusion of a portion of defendant’s deposition testimony that plaintiff wanted to use at trial as a sanction.

In Cuddeford v. Jackson, No. W2019-00539-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 16, 2020), plaintiff filed a negligence suit against defendant after a motorcycle accident. Defendant was backing out of his driveway, and plaintiff alleged that defendant backed into plaintiff’s path, causing plaintiff to lose control of his motorcycle and crash.

In February 2016, defendant sent interrogatories and requests for production of documents to plaintiff, which including a request for “copies of any photographs…relating to the accident scene.” Plaintiff did not respond to the discovery requests, which eventually resulted in defendant filing a motion to compel. The trial court entered a “consent order for Plaintiff to respond to the interrogatories and request for production of documents by July 6, 2016.” The only document produced by plaintiff in response was a medical authorization.

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Where plaintiff alleged that a magazine stand at a grocery store checkout was a dangerous condition, but she had no evidence regarding how long the condition had existed and no proof that the magazine stand had caused any other falls, summary judgment for defendant was affirmed.

In Lyon v. Castle Retail Group, LLC, No. W2019-00405-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 14, 2020), plaintiff filed a pro se premises liability action after falling in defendant’s grocery store. Plaintiff alleged that the metal foot of a magazine display rack was “protruding from the base of [the rack] in the checkout area,” and that she caught her foot on the metal, causing her to fall. After plaintiff’s fall, her companion returned to the store and took pictures of the magazine rack. He also took pictures of the rack in the years following plaintiff’s fall.

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When a complaint asserts a health care liability  (formerly known as “medical malpractice”) claim against a pharmacy and/or pharmacist, the pharmacist defendants are “barred from asserting the ‘seller shield’ defense set forth in the Tennessee Products Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-106.”

In Heaton v. Mathes, No. E2019-00493-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 3, 2020), plaintiffs filed an HCLA claim against several defendants based on complications suffered after using a certain prescription drug. The named defendants included the pharmacy and pharmacists who filled the prescription. According to plaintiff, his use of prescription Victoza resulted in pancreatitis. Plaintiff had begun using the drug in 2014, and approximately a year later the FDA issued a warning regarding the “risk of acute pancreatitis with the medication’s use.”

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This article by Steven Auvil in the National Law Journal gathers case law supporting the right of the parties to take remote video depositions during the Pandemic.

An excerpt:

In Ogilvie v. Thrifty Payless, the Western District of Washington court denied the parties’ joint motion to extend court deadlines, including the fact discovery deadline, due to the dilatory impact of COVID-19 on the parties’ ability to conduct depositions. After noting the parties’ failure to address the possibility of taking depositions by remote means (and encouraging their use), the court put a sharp point on why the parties needed to resort to such depositions: “This pandemic may well be with us for many months to come. We will all need to adjust to keep litigation moving forward. Unless the parties have explored alternative means to complete discovery, the court does not consider the mere existence of the pandemic as ‘good cause’ for a delay in the case schedule.”

Where plaintiffs could not prove that a trucking company owned the tractor that caused an accident, and instead offered directly contradictory evidence on the issue, summary judgment for defendants was affirmed.

In Affainie v. Heartland Express Maintenance Services, Inc., No. M2019-01277-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April. 1, 2020), plaintiffs were the driver and passenger of a car involved in a hit-and-run car accident when a tractor-trailer truck allegedly crossed into plaintiffs’ lane. Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant Heartland Express, whom they alleged owned the truck in question, as well as defendant State Farm under their uninsured motorist insurance policy.

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Where a plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the personal representative of the estate of the deceased tortfeasor, but the estate had already been closed and the statute of limitations had run by the time the plaintiff sought to extend the time to file correctly, dismissal based on untimeliness was affirmed.

In Algee v. Craig, No. W2019-00587-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 31. 2020), plaintiff was injured in a car accident allegedly caused by Nancy Craig on September 25, 2017. Nancy Craig died the following January, and her estate was opened with Defendant David Craig as her personal representative in February 2018. The estate was closed on July 13, 2018.

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Every Tennessean noticed a decline in motor vehicle traffic in the the month of April  2020.  The reduced number of vehicles on the roads showed up in the death rate on the state’s highways.

In 2019, 88 people died on Tennessee highways during the month of April.  In April 2020, 67 people died.

To be sure, every death on our highways results in a horrible loss for someone – each person who dies is someone’s parent, child, spouse or sibling.   But last month 21 fewer families received bad news as a result of a motor vehicle crash in Tennessee.

Where a plaintiff who had been convicted of multiple violent crimes filed a defamation claim asserting that a reporter damaged his reputation by stating in a written article that the FBI suspected he might have murdered his girlfriend, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal based on the theory that the plaintiff was libel-proof.

In Benanti v. Satterfield, No. E2018-01848-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2020), plaintiff filed a pro se defamation claim against a newspaper reporter. Plaintiff had previously been convicted in a very public trial of a scheme involving bank robbery through the kidnapping and extortion of bank employees and their families. Defendant reporter had written articles about plaintiff and his trial, several of which plaintiff attached to his complaint. While the articles contained information about plaintiff kidnapping entire families, pointing a gun at a baby’s head, and strapping a fake bomb to an elderly mother, plaintiff’s defamation claims were based on the portions of the articles that stated that plaintiff was suspected of possibly murdering his girlfriend because she found out about the criminal activities (though her death was ruled a suicide), as well as portions that alleged his business that focused on helping prisoners re-enter society was a sham.

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The Texas Supreme Court has reversed the imposition of sanctions by a trial judge against a lawyer who was alleged to have engaged in push-polling in a case shortly before it was set for trial by jury.

The movants argued that a law firm employed by defendant product manufacturer “had improperly commissioned a telephone survey to be conducted in the county of suit mere weeks before the scheduled jury trial without ensuring witnesses, represented parties, judges, and court personnel were excluded from the survey database and without voluntarily disclosing the survey to the trial court or the litigants.”  Maj. Op.,  p. 3.  The manufacturer did not commission the poll or know it was being done. Maj. Op., p.  8.   The poll is appended to the court’s opinion.

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Plaintiff’s allegation that the examination table provided during a doctor’s appointment was unsafe fell under the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA) and was thus subject to dismissal due to plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice.

In Johnson v. Knoxville HMA Cardiology PPM, LLC, No. E2019-00818-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 24, 2020), plaintiff had suffered from dizziness and fatigue, and he had a pacemaker implanted. In a later visit “for reprogramming of his pacemaker and other issues,” plaintiff fell off the examination table and hit the wall at defendant’s office “due to a fainting spell, resulting in injuries to [his] neck.”

Plaintiff filed suit alleging negligence, and his allegations were couched in premises liability language. Plaintiff asserted that defendants were negligent by failing to provide an examination table with railing and/or by failing to have padding. Plaintiff argued that “because Defendants knew that he suffered from fatigue and dizziness, they should have been aware of the risk associated with leaving him unattended on the examination table.”

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