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Tennessee Supreme Court: Vanderbilt Fellowship Does Not Qualify Out-of-State Doctor to Testify in Medical Malpractice Case


In any medical malpractice lawsuit, Tennessee law requires the victim to produce evidence in the form of expert testimony. The expert must be a person “licensed to practice” within the applicable specialty in either Tennessee or one of its bordering states. The expert must also have actually practiced within one year of the date of the act giving rise to the victim’s medical malpractice claim.

In an April 20 opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified the scope of the licensure-and-practice requirement. The case before the Court, Young v. Frist Cardiology, PLLC, involved a deceased man who died two days after undergoing a cardiac procedure performed by the defendants. The victim’s widow filed the lawsuit, alleging that the defendants failed to properly evaluate her husband before deciding to go through with the procedure.

To support her allegations, the widow produced testimony from an expert witness. The defense challenged the witness’ qualifications under Tennessee law. Specifically, the pointed out the witness was neither licensed nor practicing in Tennessee or one of its bordering states. The widow replied that her witness had previously completed a fellowship at Vanderbilt under a special exemption from the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

The trial judge allowed the expert’s testimony over the defense’s objections, holding that the expert’s fellowship exemption also excused him from the licensing requirement under the state’s medical malpractice law. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the defense’s appeal of this decision and ultimately reversed the trial judge.

The Supreme Court explained that Tennessee law was “clear and unambiguous” on this issue. The law states, “No person in a health care profession requiring licensure under the laws of this state shall be competent to testify” unless they are (1) “licensed” in Tennessee or a contiguous bordering state and (2) has actually “practiced” in Tennessee or a contiguous bordering state. Here, the widow conceded her expert did not meet either of these requirements. And even though the expert had received a personal exemption from licensure while completing his fellowship, the Supreme Court said the statute applied to a “profession” that requires licensure, not an individual person.

“In short,” the Court said, “a person who practices medicine may be competent to testify as an expert witness if that person meets the license and practice requirements” of the statute. To hold otherwise would “make the licensure” requirement “inoperative, superfluous, void or insignificant.” The widow’s expert therefore could not testify in support of her medical malpractice lawsuit.

Speak with a Tennessee Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

Medical malpractice cases impose stringent requirements that differ from other types of personal injury lawsuits. It is therefore critical to work with an experienced Nashville personal injury attorney who understands the law in this area and can provide you with skilled representation. So if you, or someone in your family, has been harmed due to a healthcare provider’s negligence, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, today to schedule a free consultation.




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