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Tennessee Court of Appeals Vacates Summary Judgment to Defendants Who Allegedly Prevented Effective Service of Process on Medical Malpractice Defendant

service of processFiling a lawsuit for medical malpractice or another act of negligence can be fraught with potential procedural pitfalls:  missing a statute of limitations, naming the wrong party as a defendant, or – as happened in a recent case – an allegation that the person who accepted service of process on the defendant was unauthorized to do so.

In some instances, a procedural misstep can result in the dismissal of an otherwise valid claim against a defendant purely on technical grounds. However, the plaintiffs in one case were determined to have their day in court, filing a second lawsuit against the allegedly unauthorized person who accepted service of process, causing their malpractice case to be dismissed as to a certain doctor.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate case, the plaintiffs were a married couple who had, in a previous case, filed a medical negligence lawsuit against a certain doctor and urology clinic. Service of process was made to the clinic’s office manager. The doctor was dismissed from the case due to insufficiency of service of process after he insisted that the office manager was not authorized to accept service on his behalf.

The plaintiffs then filed a second lawsuit, naming the office manager, the urology clinic, and several others as defendants and asserting that their negligence and negligent misrepresentation prevented the doctor from being properly served, resulting in the dismissal of their medical negligence case. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants.

Holding of the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville vacated the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendants. The court first observed that summary judgment is only appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. An appellate court’s review of an order pertaining to summary judgment is de novo, without a presumption that the trial court’s order was correct. This is because a party’s entitlement to summary judgment is a matter of law to be decided by the courts, rather than a matter of fact to be determined by the trier of fact.

In vacating the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the court noted that the lower tribunal had failed to state the legal grounds upon which its decision was based. On remand, the lower court was directed to explain the basis upon which it determined that the defendants had negated the essential elements of the plaintiffs’ case. (Presumably, if the lower court was unable to do this, it needed to deny the defendants’ motion.)

Contact a Skilled East Tennessee Malpractice Attorney

The plaintiff has the burden of proof in a medical negligence lawsuit. Gathering evidence and obtaining a qualified expert witness willing to review the case and testify in court can be an onerous and time-consuming task. To speak to a seasoned Knoxville medical malpractice lawyer about getting started on your case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657. There is no charge for the first consultation, and most cases are accepted on a contingency fee contract – our legal fees are paid out of the settlement or judgment instead of upfront.

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Tennessee Court of Appeals Decides that Doctor Was Not Entitled to Summary Judgment in Medical Negligence Case

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