Tennessee Medical Battery Requirements Considered by Federal Court

In a medical battery and negligence case, a district court ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to comply with specific pleading requirements set forth in the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (TMMA). The Act imposes a requirement on plaintiffs to provide notice of a potential medical malpractice claim to each healthcare provider at least 60 days before filing a complaint. The healthcare defendants in Shuler v. Garrett attempted to have the plaintiffs’ claims classified as arising out of medical malpractice and dismissed pursuant to the TMMA.

The plaintiffs in that case, heirs of a woman who died while being treated at the defendant hospital, brought claims against the hospital and its doctors, alleging negligence and medical battery. The decedent allegedly objected to receiving injections of an anticoagulant, but the medical providers administered them nonetheless. The woman’s heirs alleged that the patient died from an allergic reaction to the medication. Their complaint claimed negligence as well as medical battery on the part of the hospital and the doctors.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that the facts did not sufficiently present a claim for medical battery. According to the district court, the underlying facts formed the basis for a medical malpractice claim. Since a claim of medical malpractice under the TMMA requires additional notice and pleading requirements, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims.

Upon appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals looked to Tennessee law to determine whether the plaintiffs’ allegations presented an issue of a medical battery as opposed to medical malpractice. A medical battery case, in accord with established Tennessee law, requires a legal inquiry into only two factors:  whether the patient was aware that a doctor was going to perform a particular procedure, and whether the patient authorized the procedure. If the answer to both inquiries is in the negative, a claim may be classified as medical battery.

The defendants first argued that the injections of the anticoagulant were not “procedures” as contemplated under the applicable law. The appellate court recognized that the term “procedure” had not been defined by the Tennessee Supreme Court. However, using the common definition, the court noted that Tennessee courts have accepted a wide range of medical procedures in medical battery cases. In fact, a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case held that a patient could assert a medical battery claim under very similar circumstances:  an injection of a medication that the patient had specifically refused.

Given Tennessee courts’ broad definition of medical “procedures,” the appeals court held that an injection falls under the definition and involves a touching, or physical contact, sufficient to provide a factual basis for a medical battery claim.

The Sixth Circuit also declined to follow the defendants’ argument that the decedent’s general authorization for treatment constituted authorization for the injection of the anticoagulant. The court noted with particularity that the patient had explicitly refused the injections. As such, the court held that the injection was nonconsensual, and the claim was properly brought as one for medical battery.

Since the heightened pleading requirements of the TMMA do not apply to medical battery claims, the court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ medical battery claim.

If you have lost a loved one due to medical malpractice or medical battery, contact the Nashville wrongful death attorneys at MHPS. Our aggressive legal team will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today by emailing info@mhpslaw.com, or calling (615) 800-7096.

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