Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment to Hospital and Nurse in Patient’s Healthcare Liability Case

Under current Tennessee law, claims that were once referred to as “medical malpractice” cases are now referred to as “healthcare liability” actions. Although the basic idea is the same – a doctor, nurse, or hospital breached the standard of care owed to a patient, proximately causing injury or death to a patient – the rules are more complex than they used to be.

Timing is important, as there should be strict compliance with the applicable statute of limitations and statute of repose, and there are now several pre-suit requirements (including consultation with an expert medical witness) that must be met if the plaintiff is to ever have his or her day in court.

Of course, even when all of the procedural “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed, most medical negligence defendants will still seek to have the plaintiff’s case dismissed if at all possible.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case appealed from the Circuit Court of Hamblen County was a woman who had underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure at the defendant hospital in 2010. According to the plaintiff, she complained of an unbearable headache and nausea during the night following the surgery and begged the defendant nurse to stop administering the nitroglycerin that she had been prescribed. The nurse, in turn, insisted that the plaintiff had consented to further doses of the medication after being advised of its medical necessity. Eventually, it was discovered that the plaintiff had developed a hematoma and pseudoaneurysm at the catheterization site, necessitating emergency surgery to repair an artery.

The plaintiff filed a healthcare liability action against the hospital, the nurse, and a physician in 2012. She voluntarily dismissed her first suit in 2014 and refiled her claim almost a year later pursuant to the saving statute. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Following the denial of her request to alter or amend the judgment, the plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals Decision

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. Phrasing the issues as 1) whether the lower court had abused its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motion to continue and for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of possible witness coercion of one of the plaintiff’s experts by the defendant and 2) whether the trial court erred in denying the plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend, the court of appeals reversed both the lower court’s denial of the plaintiff’s request for a continuance and its grant of summary judgment.

Because the plaintiff had suffered extreme prejudice as a result of the trial court’s denial of the continuance (as evidenced by the grant of summary judgment when she was left without an expert through which to respond to pending motions as they related to the defendant hospital and nurse), the appellate court held that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motion for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of witness coercion and the corresponding motion for a continuance. Accordingly, the court also reversed the grant of summary judgment as premature.

Speak to an Experienced Knoxville Healthcare Liability Attorney

If you believe that you or a family member has been hurt by the actions (or failure to take action, as the case may be) by a medical professional, you need reliable legal advice. To schedule an appointment to discuss your situation with an experienced east Tennessee medical malpractice lawyer, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657 today. Please remember that there are many time constraints in healthcare liability lawsuits, so it is important to contact legal counsel as soon as possible so that the appropriate steps may be taken to get your claim filed in a timely fashion.

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