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Ordinary vs. Medical Negligence in Tennessee Courts


Tennessee law draws a bright line between ordinary negligence and health care negligence, i.e. medical malpractice. Before filing a medical malpractice claim, a victim must comply with certain additional legal requirements. For example, the victim must file a certificate indicating they consulted with one or more experts who believe there is a “good faith practice” for the malpractice claim. Ordinary negligence claims require no such certificate.

Court Allows “Beating” Allegations Against Doctors to Proceed

So what happens when a personal injury lawsuit includes both ordinary and medical negligence claims? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. This was an unusual appeal in that the plaintiff is representing herself without an attorney.

The defendants include a hospital and two doctors. According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendants committed “assault and battery” against her during the course of medical testing. Among other claims, she alleged that one doctor “physically beat her” after administering an electric shock and the other similarly “beat her three to four times in the shoulder.”

The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds the plaintiff did not provide a certificate of good faith and comply with the other requirements for medical malpractice cases. The trial judge granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals partially reversed, ruling that some of the plaintiff’s claims fell outside the bounds of malpractice.

While noting the plaintiff’s “pleadings are not clearly drafted” and the allegations themselves “are not always cogent,” the appeals court said there was enough to sustain a claim for ordinary negligence. Many of the plaintiff’s claims related directly to the medical care she received from the defendants, which clearly fell on the malpractice side of the line, the court said. But it “strains credulity to view a willful assault as being related to the provision of health care services.” The plaintiff’s references to “beating” by the defendants would, if proven, constitute such a willful assault.

It is important to note the Court of Appeals did not consider the merits of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. It only found that she did the bare minimum to clear the initial threshold to avoid dismissal. And the appeals court still upheld the dismissal of all malpractice-related claims due to the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee law.

Do Not Represent Yourself in Court

Although the plaintiff in this appeal was successful, at least in part, without the assistance of an attorney, cases like this should serve as a cautionary tale. Representing yourself in any kind of lawsuit is a bad idea. But it is particularly ill-advised when going up against well-funded professional defendants. Litigation is not a weekend, do-it-yourself project. It usually takes months–even years–to fully litigate a personal injury claim. Even under ideal circumstances where a defendant is willing to negotiate a settlement, you still need experienced representation from a Tennessee personal injury lawyer to protect your interests.

If you been injured due to someone else’s negligence and need to know your legal options, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today.



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