Discovery is an important part of a Tennessee personal injury lawsuit. During this phase of litigation, the parties exchange certain information, such as the names of factual witnesses and the opinions of potential experts. When conducted appropriately, discovery can lead to a settlement of a case. As the parties learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents’ cases, there tends to be a “meeting of the minds” as concerns at least some of the issues. However, not all discovery is conducted in a manner that aids the parties in the settlement process – especially if it happens behind closed doors and outside of the presence of the plaintiff and his or her counsel.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case addressing the constitutionality of a statute, the plaintiff was the daughter of a woman who allegedly died as a result of the defendant medical providers’ negligence. The daughter filed a healthcare liability wrongful death lawsuit, asserting that the defendants’ medical treatment of her mother fell below the applicable standard of care and that this breach of duty was the proximate cause of her mother’s death. As the lawsuit progressed, the defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(f), requesting that they be permitted to conduct interviews of certain healthcare providers who had provided medical treatment to the plaintiff’s mother but had not been named as defendants in the case. These interviews were to take place outside the presence of the attorneys who represented the plaintiff in her lawsuit.
The plaintiff objected to the defendants’ motion for the qualified protective order on the basis that § 29-26-121(f) was unconstitutional. The trial court granted the defendants’ motions for the ex parte interviews, commenting that the legislature had overstepped its bounds in saying that “the court shall do something,” but opining that it was not a trial court judge’s place to declare a statute unconstitutional. The Tennessee Court of Appeals denied the plaintiff’s application for an interlocutory appeal, but the Tennessee Supreme Court granted her permission to seek review of the trial court’s ruling.