TN Court of Appeals Declines to Hear Partial Appeal in Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death Case
Medical malpractice lawsuits often involve multiple defendants, including doctors, hospitals, and even nurses. Sorting out the legal arguments against each specific party is a complex undertaking. And judicial decisions involving some of the defendants may end up affecting a victim’s case against the other parties.
A July 31 decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Blackburn v. McLean, illustrates what we are talking about. The plaintiff in this case is the father of a man who died while receiving medical care at Maury Regional Hospital. The plaintiff sued both his son’s treating physician and the hospital itself for medical malpractice and wrongful death.
As often happens in these cases, a dispute arose over the proposed testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness. Tennessee law requires expert testimony to establish causation in most medical malpractice cases. Here, the trial judge held the testimony of the plaintiff’s proposed expert was insufficient. The plaintiff then attempted to substitute in a new expert witness, but the judge rejected that effort as well.
The court then granted summary judgment to the hospital. But the judge said some of the plaintiff’s allegations against the treating physician could proceed to trial. The judge then certified his judgment in favor of the hospital alone as “final,” meaning the plaintiff could file an immediate appeal of that part of his case. The judge also decided to delay further proceedings in the case against the physician until the Court of Appeals ruled on the plaintiff’s appeal regarding the hospital.
The Court of Appeals, however, held this was improper procedure. The appellate court said that “under the unique facts of this case,” the plaintiff’s claims against both the hospital and the physician are “inextricably linked” to the point where it “substantially complicates our review.” That is to say, many of the plaintiff’s allegations were made against both the hospital and the doctor. But the trial court’s ruling was only “final” with respect to the hospital. Until there is also a final judgment against the doctor, the Court of Appeals said it made no sense to review the case piecemeal.
Similarly, if the Court of Appeals were to review the trial judge’s decision to disallow the plaintiff’s request to change expert witnesses, that would obviously impact the still-pending allegations against the physician. Indeed, this is precisely the reason the trial court suspended further proceedings in the first place. But the trial judge was basically attempting to put the cart before the horse. This could lead to an “unjust outcome,” the appeals court said, so it declined to hear the plaintiff’s partial appeal at this time.
Speak with a Tennessee Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today
Medical malpractice cases often involve complicated legal issues like the one described above. That is why it is crucial to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney who understands this process intimately. If you have been injured due to a healthcare provider’s negligence and need legal advice, contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.