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Notification Requirements for Medical Malpractice Claims in Tennessee

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Tennessee’s medical malpractice statute provides very specific requirements for individuals seeking to bring medical malpractice claims against Tennessee physicians and hospitals. These measures are enacted, in part, to reduce the filing of frivolous malpractice claims, as well as to ensure that all plaintiffs and defendants have equal access to sensitive financial information. Although Tennessee courts understand that not all litigants will be able to understand the sophisticated requirements of Tennessee statutes, they have also determined that, in most instances, these requirements must be carefully followed.

In Cright v. Overly, M.D., Catherine Cright sued after her husband died from complications after a routine stent procedure. During the procedure, Mr. Cright’s femoral artery was punctured, which led to a retroperitoneal bleed. Although the hospital attempted surgery to correct the puncture, Mr. Cright died from the complications.  Dr. Overly was the doctor who completed the stent procedure. Approximately one year after her husband’s death, Ms. Cright notified Dr. Overly and the hospital that she intended to file a medical malpractice claim. With her notice, she attached the requisite HIPAA-compliant authorization. She then filed her complaint, and the case went to trial. Three days into the trial, Ms. Cright moved for a voluntary “nonsuit” to end the trial, with the understanding that she might attempt to bring the claim again later. About one month later, Ms. Cright sent notice to the defendants of the new lawsuit she intended to file. However, she did not attach a HIPAA authorization with this notice. After she filed the complaint, the defendants moved to dismiss for a failure to comply with the requirements of Tennessee’s medical malpractice statute.  The trial court, finding that Ms. Cright had not attached the required notice, agreed and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Ms. Cright argued that the trial court erred in dismissing her claims. She argued first that the documents governed by the HIPAA authorization had previously been produced in the earlier lawsuit and that an order from that lawsuit governing the protected production of those documents was still in effect, thereby obviating the need for a HIPAA authorization. Second, she argued that the defendants were not prejudiced by the lack of authorization. As an initial matter, the Court of Appeals noted that the purpose of the statutory requirement to provide a HIPAA-compliant authorization was so that defendants have “the actual means to evaluate the substantive merits of a plaintiff’s claim” through equal access to medical records.

Here, Ms. Cright did not offer such access but stated that it had previously been given through the existing order in the prior case. However, on review, the court noted that that order expired upon “the final disposition of the above-styled lawsuit.” Since Ms. Cright voluntarily ended that lawsuit, the order was no longer in effect and could not be used to satisfy the remedial records requirement. Although the defendants already had the records in their possession, they could not use them because, under HIPAA, without authorization and consent, parties are forbidden from using health information.  Accordingly, the court held that Ms. Cright’s actions were insufficient, and a new authorization should have been provided. Moreover, since the defendants were prohibited from using the records in the new case, they were necessarily prejudiced by Ms. Cright’s actions.  The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the trial court and upheld the dismissal of Ms. Cright’s claims.

If you have a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or medical institution, it is imperative that you seek the advice and assistance of a qualified medical malpractice attorney. While courts are generally understanding and sympathetic to plaintiffs who attempt to bring claims without legal counsel, there are certain requirements of Tennessee’s medical malpractice laws that must be followed precisely. A failure to do so will result in the dismissal of your lawsuit and the loss of valuable time and effort that you have put into your claim.  For more information on medical malpractice claims in general, or how to prepare your claim for a lawsuit, contact knowledgeable Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim for Lack of Physical Injury, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 21, 2016

Waiver of Medical Malpractice Claims Against Tennessee State Employees, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 21, 2016

Sixth Circuit Remands Tennessee Medical Malpractice Claim for Widow of Veteran, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 3, 2016