Plaintiff Was Allowed to Take Voluntary Nonsuit in Medical Malpractice Case, Per Tennessee Court of Appeals

Every negligence lawsuit requires that the plaintiff prove certain elements, such as the existence and breach of a legal duty, proximate causation, and damages. However, a Tennessee medical malpractice claim requires even more specific proof, including expert testimony as to the applicable standard of care and the defendant’s alleged deviation therefrom.

In addition, lobbying efforts from medical associations and those who provide liability insurance to physicians and hospitals have resulted in there being additional “hoops” that a plaintiff must jump through in order to file a claim seeking compensation for a doctor or hospital’s mistake.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case filed in the Circuit Court for Green County was a woman who asserted a health care liability action against the defendants, a regional hospital and three doctors. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint due to the plaintiff’s failure to file a certificate of good faith along with her complaint. After the defendant’s motion to dismiss was filed, the plaintiff filed the certificate. The defendants then filed a purported “motion for summary judgment.” In response, the plaintiff filed a motion for voluntary dismissal (nonsuit) of her complaint. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion and dismissed her complaint without prejudice (which would arguably allow her to refile the action within a certain time period, while still being considered filed within the statute of limitations). The defendants appealed.

Outcome of the Case

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville affirmed. In so holding, the court noted that both the defendants’ motions to dismiss and for summary judgment related solely to the plaintiff’s alleged failure to file a certificate of good faith along with complaint when she began her suit. Likewise, the affidavits submitted by the defendants in support of their motions also related solely to the certificate. Under the circumstances, the court of appeals held that the trial court had not erred in treating the defendants’ motions for summary judgment as simply a “restyled” motion to dismiss. The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s right to take a voluntary nonsuit was not disturbed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.01 and that, thus, the lower court had acted in accordance with applicable law in entering an order of voluntary dismissal.

In so holding, the court noted that, generally, a plaintiff may not take a voluntary nonsuit while a motion for summary judgment is pending, but, here, the defendant’s summary judgment motion was more in the nature of a motion to dismiss than a true motion for summary judgment.

Seasoned Knoxville Medical Malpractice Attorney Reviewing Cases

Taking prompt legal action in any case involving personal injury or wrongful death can be critical, but this is especially true in cases involving medical negligence. There are rules and requirements in these kinds of cases that, if not complied with, can mean that the plaintiff’s case may be dismissed even if the defendant deviated from the standard of care and caused harm to him or her. For a free case review by an experienced Knoxville medical malpractice lawyer, call the Hartsoe Law Firm today at 865-524-5657. There is no charge for the appointment, and many cases are handled on a contingency fee contract.

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