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Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Healthcare Liability Claim Against Tennessee Hospital – Lower Court Had Found the Claim Untimely

In a typical Knoxville medical malpractice case, there is a long list of things that must be done before the case is even filed at the courthouse. It can take weeks or months to complete the necessary tasks in many cases.

Accordingly, it is vitally important to talk to a lawyer as soon as you suspect that you or a family member has been harmed due to a healthcare professional’s error. Waiting too long can seriously jeopardize the outcome of your case, as untimely claims will be dismissed by the court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiff was the next of kin of a woman who died of acute respiratory failure after being a patient at the defendant hospital in January 2018. The plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Davidson County in May 2019, asserting a claim for healthcare liability pursuant to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 29-26-102 et seq. In his complaint, the plaintiff averred that the defendant was “both directly and vicariously liable” under the principles of respondeat superior for the acts and omissions of its employees and agents. A copy of the complaint was mailed to the defendant on December 21, 2018, along with the notice required under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint against it, arguing that a principal could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee or agent when the plaintiff’s direct claims against such employee or agent were procedurally barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiff filed an interlocutory appeal.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville reversed the trial court’s decision. Phrasing the issue as whether the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims, the court turned to the provisions of the Act for instruction. Noting that Act specifically stated that the statutes of limitations or repose applicable to an action asserting a claim for health care liability were not to be shortened or lengthened thereunder, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s case as untimely.

In the court’s view, following the common law rule relied upon by the defendant would have effectively shortened the time for pre-suit resolution of claims for vicarious liability cases brought solely against a principal. Under the “trap” advocated by the defendant, a plaintiff who chose to sue a principal rather than its agents would have to give the principal pre-suit notice at least 60 days prior to the date upon which the statute of limitations applicable to the agent would expire, if the plaintiff was to benefit from the 120-day extension set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c). Thus, the court concluded that, in health care liability cases in which a plaintiff chooses to sue only the principal, the provisions of the Act regarding pre-suit notice prevailed over any previously declared common law exception with respect to the tolling of the statute of limitations.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Injury Attorney in East Tennessee

A medical malpractice case in east Tennessee requires special handling and care. Because of the many procedural requirements in such cases, it is very important that a person who has been the victim of medical negligence or a family who has lost a loved one due to a medical professional’s mistake speak with an attorney as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment with the Hartsoe Law Firm to discuss your Knoxville or Maryville medical negligence case, call us at 865-524-5657. If you prefer, you can contact us through the “contact us” section of this website.

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