Navigating the Legal Pitfalls of Medical Malpractice Litigation in Tennessee
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is common for there to be multiple defendants. The plaintiff normally has the responsibility of identifying and providing pre-lawsuit notice to each defendant. Such notice is not required in other types of personal injury cases, but Tennessee law does mandate it specifically in medical malpractice claims.
Court of Appeals: Doctors Had a Legal Duty to Identify Employer to Malpractice Plaintiff
That said, Tennessee law also requires the recipient of such a notice to inform the claimant–i.e., the person filing the medical malpractice lawsuit–of “any other person, entity, or health care provider who may be a properly named defendant.” In other words, if you inform a doctor you plan to sue them for malpractice, that doctor is required by law to inform you if they know of anyone else who might be properly named as a party to the lawsuit.
This is important because when there are multiple health care providers who might be negligent, the court needs to apportion liability among them.
A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Bidwell v. Strait, elaborated further on this principle. This case involved a woman who died while hospitalized at the Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga. The decedent’s widower subsequently brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the two doctors who treated his wife, alleging their negligence was responsible for her death.
To comply with Tennessee law, the plaintiff sent the required pre-suit notice to both doctors at what he believed to be their then-current employers. As it turned out, the plaintiff had inaccurate information. Both doctors actually worked directly for Erlanger. Neither defendant bothered to inform the plaintiff of this fact.
Erlanger is a governmental hospital entity. As such, its individual physicians can only be sued for malpractice if Erlanger itself is also named as a defendant. Since it was not, the defendant doctors moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s lawsuit, which the trial court granted.
The Court of Appeals, however, said that was inappropriate. Under the law the “onus is no longer solely on the claimant to identify all necessary parties to a health care liability action.” A defendant cannot defeat a malpractice lawsuit by failing to inform the plaintiff there is another defendant that must also be named as a party to the lawsuit. Since the defendants here did not comply with the law, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff was entitled to additional time to refile his malpractice lawsuit, this time naming Erlanger as a co-defendant.
Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette Today
Medical malpractice cases are full of potential legal pitfalls. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Gatlinburg personal injury attorney who understands how the law works in this area. Contact the offices of Fox Wills Burnette, PLLC, at 866-862-4855 today if you have suffered a loss due to someone else’s negligence and need legal advice on what steps to take next.