Tennessee Court of Appeals Says County’s Third-Party Claim Against Medical Services Company Following Attack on Inmate Was Not a “Health Care Liability Claim”

When someone is killed or suffers catastrophic injuries as a result of the negligence of a government official – including prison guards, police officers, and sheriffs’ deputies – that injured person (or the deceased person’s family) may be able to seek monetary compensation.

An experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney can help you determine whether liability may lie in a particular situation and, if so, help you get started on the process of holding the responsible party accountable for the consequences of their actions or inaction.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently considered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals of Nashville, the plaintiffs were the co-conservators of their adult son, who allegedly suffered a severe injury to his brain as a result of an assault upon him by an inmate with whom he shared a cell at a detention center operated by the defendant county. The parents sued the county, seeking payment of the son’s medical expenses under Tennessee Code Annotated § 41-4-115. The parents later amended their complaint to add claims for negligence and for a violation of their son’s civil rights. According to the complaint, the son should not have been housed with the other inmates because the other inmate was mentally ill and had a known propensity for violence against other inmates. Accordingly, the parents sought monetary damages pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.

The county filed a third-party complaint against a medical services company whose director had allegedly been informed of the inmate’s mental illness (and the danger he posed to himself and others) by the inmate’s relatives. The county’s third-party complaint sought indemnification from the medical services company on the basis of a contract through which the company agreed to provide medical services to inmates and to indemnify the county for any claims against it arising from the actions of the company’s employees.

The trial court dismissed the county’s third-party action because it had failed to comply with the requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. The county appealed.

Decision of the Court

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the county’s third-party complaint against the medical services company. Under the Act, those who wish to assert a liability claim against health care providers must comply with certain procedural requirements, including the giving of written notice at least 60 days before a complaint is filed in court. Additionally, in any health care liability action in which expert testimony is required under Tennessee law (such as a medical malpractice claim), the claimant must file a certificate of good faith along with his or her complaint.

Unlike the lower court, the court of appeals found that the Act did not apply to the county’s third-party complaint. According to the appellate court, a fair reading of the county’s claim revealed that it was for indemnification and contribution, based on a purported contract between it and the medical services company. Thus, the county was not required to comply with the requisites of the Act, even though the underlying claim for which the county was seeking indemnification was arguably based on the Act.

In so holding, the court declined to rule on the issue of whether a “failure to warn” claim was based on pure negligence rather than on the Act.

Schedule a Free Consultation

When a person, business, or governmental entity breaches the duty of care that it owes to another party, serious injuries often result. If you or a loved one has been hurt due to someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may be entitled to damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. Knoxville attorney Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. handles many serious brain injury and other personal injury cases. For a free consultation, call us at 865-524-5657. In most cases, we do not require a legal fee to be paid up front, so there is no reason to wait any longer to speak to a lawyer about your case.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court of Appeals Affirms Judgment Holding Shelby County Negligent in Jailhouse Suicide Case

Court of Appeals Holds that Tennessee Claims Commission Had Jurisdiction Over Case Arising from Negligent Supervision and Retention of State Employee

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