The Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA) covers injuries arising out of medical treatment provided by healthcare professionals. In a relevant decision issued on May 2, 2017, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed a personal injury claim that the trial court had determined was subject to the THCLA.
In the case, the plaintiff alleged that, while he was strapped to a gurney, an EMT negligently hit him in the face with his fist. The plaintiff filed his lawsuit against the EMT and the EMT’s employer. The defendants asserted that the plaintiff’s action was, in essence, a health care liability action because the EMT was a health care provider, and the plaintiff’s injuries were related to the provision of health care services. The trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice, based on his failure to file a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA. The plaintiff’s appeal followed.
In Tennessee, civil actions alleging that a health care provider has caused an injury related to the provision of, or the failure to provide, health care services are health care liability actions subject to the THCLA. In a health care liability action in which expert testimony is required under the THCLA, the plaintiff must file a certificate of good faith with the complaint.
On appeal, the plaintiff conceded that his claims sounded in health care liability under the THCLA, but he argued that they should not have been dismissed with prejudice because a certificate of good faith was not required. The plaintiff argued that he should be excused from filing a certificate of good faith because the alleged act of negligence was within the common knowledge of a layperson, such that expert proof was not necessary.
Under the common knowledge exception to the requirement of expert testimony, only the most obvious forms of medical negligence may be established without expert testimony. After reviewing the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, the appeals court determined it would be within the common knowledge of a layperson whether an EMT’s alleged negligent, reckless, or intentional striking of a patient’s face, while the patient is strapped to a gurney, would fall below the standard of care. The appeals court went on to conclude that, since this alleged act would not require expert proof to aid the jury in understanding the issue, the plaintiff’s case fell within the common knowledge exception. Since no expert proof was necessary to establish negligence, no certificate of good faith would be required pursuant to THCLA. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed and remanded for the entry of an order dismissing the claims without prejudice based upon his failure to provide pre-suit notice, allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to refile.
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