Tennessee Appeals Court Rules Plaintiff’s Pre-Suit Notice Sufficient to Extend Filing Deadline in Medical Malpractice Action

Although Tennessee law provides the deadline by which a claim must be filed, there are exceptions that may extend that time limit.  In a May 26, 2017 decision, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considered whether any exceptions applied in a medical malpractice action filed by a mother and her child on September 29, 2015.  The plaintiffs alleged that they suffered permanent injuries resulting from the defendant health care providers’ negligent care during the child’s birth in June 2012.  The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims, based on the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Health care liability actions in Tennessee are generally subject to a one-year statute of limitations that runs from the date on which the claim accrues.  There is an important exception under the Health Care Liability Act, however, if the alleged injury is not discovered within one year.  In such cases, the period of limitation is extended to one year from the date of the discovery, but no more than three years after the date on which the alleged negligence occurred (subject to certain exceptions).  This statute is commonly known as a statute of repose since it establishes an absolute, three-year limit upon the existing statute of limitations.  Although the three-year statute of repose is not tolled during a plaintiff’s minority, it may be extended by 120 days if the plaintiff provides the defendants with pre-suit notice of his or her potential claims as required by the Act, before the statute of repose expires.

In the case, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ negligence occurred on June 21, 2012.  Accordingly, the three-year statute of repose expired on June 21, 2015, well before the plaintiffs’ complaint was filed on September 29, 2015.  On appeal, one of the dispositive issues for the court was whether the plaintiffs provided the defendants with sufficient pre-suit notice of their claims, which would extend the statute of repose by 120 days to October 19, 2015 and save the child’s claim from being dismissed.

In Tennessee, a plaintiff intending to assert a health care liability claim is required to provide pre-suit notice to the defendant health care provider, which includes medical authorization to obtain medical records from the other defendant health care providers.  The appeals court explained that plaintiffs must comply substantially, rather than strictly, with this requirement, and defendants are only allowed access to records that are relevant to the particular claim at issue.  In determining whether sufficient notice was provided, the court considers the extent and significance of the plaintiff’s errors and omissions and whether the defendant was prejudiced by the plaintiff’s noncompliance.

In the case, the defendants argued that the medical authorizations provided by the child were insufficient because they did not permit the defendants to obtain records of the mother’s prenatal treatment or the child’s hospitalization after birth.  The appeals court first explained that the child had no authority to release the mother’s records, and thus it would not render his pre-suit notice inadequate.  The appeals court then noted that the claims brought by the plaintiffs were related to the defendants’ failure to recognize and take action in response to the mother’s deteriorating condition during labor.  While the mother’s prenatal care may be relevant in determining the defendants’ knowledge of any complications that might arise during labor, the child’s subsequent treatment was not relevant.  Finding that the child provided sufficient pre-suit notice to extend the filing period by 120 days, the court held that the child’s claim was timely filed, allowing him to go forward with his claim against the defendants.

The Nashville attorneys at MHPS can help victims of medical malpractice pursue compensation for their injuries.  Our skilled trial lawyers also have represented plaintiffs in car and truck accident cases, premises liability and wrongful death actions, and other negligence claims.  Explore your legal recourse with our guidance by calling (615) 800-7096 or contacting us online and scheduling a free consultation.

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