Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal of Knoxville Malpractice Lawsuit

A Knoxville medical malpractice case is never easy. Doctors and their insurance companies fight incredibly hard against a finding of liability, and, even if a case makes it to a jury trial, jurors can be reluctant to find that a doctor is hospital has been negligent. This much is to be expected.

However, it may come as a surprise to an average Tennessean that many medical malpractice cases are dismissed annually based not on a finding that the plaintiff failed to prove negligence but because of some technicality in the voluminous amount of paperwork that must now accompany a malpractice claim.

This is one of the many reasons that it is critically important to contact an attorney as soon as you suspect you or a family member has suffered from an act of medical malpractice; the sooner you can get started on your case, the more likely you are to be able to jump through the many “hoops” that have become part of our law through the endless lobbying efforts of the medical establishment and their insurers.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man whose brought suit against the defendant medical providers (a hospital, multiple doctors, and others) after his wife reportedly died from complications of a pneumonic infection after multiple emergency room visits while pregnant with their first child. The plaintiff’s medical negligence lawsuit was filed in September 2017, after he had given pre-suit notice as required by T.C.A. 29-26-121.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit on the basis that the plaintiff had not been compliant with the provisions of T.C.A. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), which, in the defendants’ view required that the plaintiff’s pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization allowing each and every healthcare provider who received the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider was sent the notice. The Circuit Court of Knox County ruled in the defendants’ favor, holding that the plaintiff’s authorizations failed to substantially comply with the statute’s requirements because they did not explicitly allow each provider to obtain records from the other providers. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville reversed and remanded, holding that the plaintiff’s method of permitting the defendants access to the decedent’s medical records was in substantial compliance with the statute and that, thus, the trial court had been wrong to dismiss the suit. The court began by acknowledging that the lower court had dismissed the plaintiff’s case on a motion to dismiss and that there was a de novo standard in reviewing such an order (i.e. there was no presumption that the lower court had been correct in its ruling).

The court went on to discuss the basic requirements for a HIPAA-complaint authorization under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996: a description of the information to be disclosed, the name of the person authorized to make the disclosure, the name of the person to whom the covered entity may make the disclosure, a description of the purpose of the disclosure, an expiration date, and a dated signature. Although the trial court had found that the plaintiff’s authorization was in compliance with HIPAA, it had found that it nevertheless failed to comply with § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) because it did not allow each of the defendants to obtain records from the others.

In the appellate court’s view, however, a notice letter sent by the plaintiff to the defendants served to inform the defendants that all other listed medical providers had received a similar HIPAA-compliant authorization so as to allow each listed medical provider to obtain complete medical records from every other provider. Thus, the court found that there had been substantial compliance with the applicable statute and that the trial court had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.

How to Learn More About Your Legal Rights

Attorney Mark Hartsoe handles medical malpractice cases in Knoxville, Maryville, and elsewhere in east Tennessee. For an appointment to discuss your case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657 at your earliest convenience.

Contact Information