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Appeals Court Vacates Order Dismissing Wife’s Loss of Consortium Claim With Prejudice in Tennessee Medical Malpractice Case

In Igou v. Vanderbilt University, a man filed a medical care liability action against a Tennessee hospital over the injury he allegedly sustained as a result of a surgical procedure that was performed at the facility.  According to the man, he was rendered impotent as a result of his surgeon’s error.  Prior to filing his case, the man provided the hospital with notice of his claim in accordance with Section 29-26-121 of the Tennessee Code.  When the man formally filed his complaint, he provided the court with a certificate of good faith under Section 29-26-122.  In addition, the man’s wife filed a loss of consortium claim.  She did not provide notice of her claim under the requirements enumerated in the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”).

Next, the hospital filed a motion to dismiss the wife’s loss of consortium claim.  In addition, the hospital argued the woman’s lawsuit was filed beyond the one-year statute of limitations specified in Section 29-26-116.  In response, the wife stated her loss of consortium claim was derivative of her husband’s cause of action and should be allowed to continue, since he complied with the applicable pre-suit notice requirements. Following a hearing on the matter, the trial court dismissed the wife’s claim with prejudice.  A dismissal with prejudice means a case is dismissed permanently and may not be refiled at a later date.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville, the wife argued her claim was not subject to the notice provisions included in the THCLA, she substantially complied with the notice provisions even if her claim was subject to them, extraordinary cause excused her non-compliance with the notice provisions, dismissal was not the appropriate remedy for her failure to comply, and her claim was filed before the statute of limitations expired.

The appellate court first stated it was required to construe all material allegations included in the wife’s complaint as true.  Next, the court examined whether the THCLA applied to the woman’s loss of consortium claim.  According to the court, loss of consortium is a distinct cause of action under Section 25-1-106.  After examining the plain language of the THCLA, the court found that the woman’s claim was a “health care liability action” that was subject to the notice provisions at issue because it was a civil action asserted against a health care provider that arose as a result of alleged negligent medical treatment.  The Court of Appeals then found that the wife failed to comply with the pre-suit notice provisions included in the Tennessee law.

After that, the appellate court examined whether the woman’s failure to comply with the notice provisions was excusable.  The court stated the pre-suit notice provision was subject to a substantial compliance standard.  Despite this, the Nashville court found that the wife failed to provide the hospital with any notice that she would be filing her loss of consortium claim.

The Court of Appeals also stated that no extraordinary cause existed to excuse the wife’s non-compliance with the notice requirements enumerated in the law.  The court added that dismissal without prejudice was the appropriate remedy for a plaintiff’s failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements of the THCLA.  When a lawsuit is dismissed without prejudice, a plaintiff may refile his or her case in the future.

Finally, the Nashville court analyzed whether the wife filed her case before the applicable statute of limitations expired.  The court said a loss of consortium cause of action accrues when a “deprived spouse actually experiences the loss of the impaired spouse’s services and benefits,” rather than when an injured spouse began showing symptoms.  Since it was unclear when the wife’s loss of consortium cause of action actually accrued, the appellate court held that the trial court committed error when it dismissed her claim with prejudice.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville vacated the trial court’s order dismissing the wife’s claims with prejudice and remanded the case.

The caring attorneys at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. help Eastern Tennessee clients who were hurt as a result of medical malpractice recover the financial compensation they deserve based on the severity of their injuries.  To speak with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer about your case, do not hesitate to call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Igou v. Vanderbilt University, Tenn: Court of Appeals 2014

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