The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently discussed the significance of the amendments to the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 in the negligence case of Osunde v. Delta Med. Ctr. (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2016). In Osunde, the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging claims of medical malpractice and common law negligence after she suffered injuries while being treated at the defendant’s hospital. When the plaintiff failed to disclose any experts pursuant to the trial court’s scheduling order, the defendant moved for summary judgment against the plaintiff. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion as to the health care liability action, but it denied summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s common law negligence claim. The defendant was granted leave to file an interlocutory appeal as to the negligence claim.
In Osunde, the plaintiff sought treatment from the defendant’s hospital for pain in her left ankle. A radiology technician instructed the plaintiff to stand on a stool to receive an x-ray. As she stepped off the stool, the plaintiff fell and sustained a right fibular fracture. On appeal, the primary issue for the court was whether the common law negligence claim asserted by the plaintiff fell outside the context of a health care liability action and whether it could be supported in the absence of expert proof.
The Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 statutorily abrogated case law regarding the approach for distinguishing ordinary negligence and health care liability claims in Tennessee. The Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA) now contains a comprehensive and broad definition of what constitutes a health care liability action: any civil action alleging that a health care provider has caused an injury related to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services to a person, regardless of the theory of liability on which the action is based. Under the statute, a “health care provider” includes an employee of a health care provider, such as a physician, nurse, or technician, and the meaning of “health care services” includes staffing, custodial or basic care, positioning, hydration, and similar patient services.
An action that falls under the THCLA is subject to distinct requirements, including that such an action be proven by expert testimony. However, expert proof is not required in contexts in which the trier of fact can determine, based on common knowledge, that the allegations against the defendant constitute negligence. As a result, even if the Osunde plaintiff’s negligence claim fell within the THCLA, it would not trigger the expert proof requirement if the matter were within the common knowledge of a layperson.
In Osunde, the court found that the plaintiff’s negligence claim, which was asserted against a health care provider and which arose out of her treatment at the defendant’s hospital, was subject to the THCLA. However, the court found that expert testimony was not required to establish whether the defendant’s actions in providing an allegedly unstable stool constituted negligence. The court, therefore, allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her negligence claim against the defendant.
The medical malpractice attorneys at the Nashville firm of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard provide legal representation to individuals who have been injured by negligent medical providers. We have the resources, experience, and skill to assist you in pursuing compensation from the parties responsible for your injuries. To discuss your personal injury claim with one of our dedicated attorneys, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.