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Tennessee Appeals Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Suit Arising From Woman’s Death Following Emergency Craniotomy

Under Tennessee medical malpractice law, an individual who seeks to recover fair compensation (including acts of negligence resulting in a loved one’s alleged wrongful death) must provide pre-suit notice to those against whom the lawsuit will eventually be filed.

Generally speaking, failure to provide this notice can result in dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit based on failure to comply with the state’s health care liability statute. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, as the appellate court held in a recent case.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the husband of a woman who died in April 2016, following an emergency craniotomy that was performed due to stroke-like symptoms the woman suffered shortly after being released from a hospital where she had sought medical treatment for an apparent aneurysm.  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant medical providers in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, alleging that the defendants had failed to adequately and timely treat the decedent, thereby causing her various personal injuries and, ultimately, her death. Pursuant to the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121, the plaintiff attempted to provide pre-suit notice of his intent to bring a health care liability action against each defendant named in his complaint and filed his complaint within the 12o-day extension of the statute of limitations provided by the statute.

In their answers to the plaintiff’s complaint, each defendant raised the affirmative defense of comparative fault. Two defendant doctors then moved for summary judgment, arguing that no judgment could be entered against them because their employer, whom they asserted was covered under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, was not named as a party defendant. The plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to add the employer as a defendant, but the trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion and granted summary judgment to the defendant doctors.

The Court’s Ruling

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville vacated the lower court’s granting of summary judgment to the defendant doctors and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the court of appeals, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(5),  the defendant doctors were required to identify their governmental entity employer as a known and necessary party within 30 days after receiving pre-suit notice. Because they did not do so, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 their subsequent declaration of the necessity of the nonparty employer to the suit, after the complaint was filed, granted the plaintiff an additional 90 days following the filing of the first answer to amend his complaint in order to add the nonparty employer as a defendant. The court further ruled that, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c), the plaintiff’s addition of the nonparty employer was not barred for failure to provide pre-suit notice.

Schedule a Free Legal Consultation 

If you have been hurt by a negligent doctor or other medical professional, you need to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Medical negligence cases take time to prepare, and waiting too late to talk to an attorney can be very risky. To schedule an appointment with an experienced Tennessee medical malpractice lawyer, call the Hartsoe Law Firm today at 865-524-5657. There’s no charge for the consultation, and we can arrange a home or hospital visit if you need us to do so.

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