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TN Court Revives Lawsuit Against Jailhouse Doctors Over Patient Death


There are far too many cases in Tennessee where people lose a family member due to improper institutional care, such as nursing home neglect and abuse. This is especially true when it comes to individuals with serious medical issues who are incarcerated in local jails. Police are quick to arrest a drug addict for possession, but they are often ill-equipped to deal with a victim experienced withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

Did Untreated Drug Withdrawal Lead to Woman’s Death?

On June 29, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals revived a medical malpractice claim against the operator of a jail medical unit in Hickman County. The victim was arrested by police in 2011 following a traffic stop. The police claimed they found “drugs and drug paraphernalia” in the victim’s possession.

The police took the victim to the county jail. About three days later, the victim informed jail officials she was “going through bad withdrawals” and required immediate medical assistance. A nurse employed by the defendant treated the victim, but several hours later, the victim died in her jail cell.

The victim’s family brought and settled a claim with Hickman County over her death. Separately, the family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. Several pretrial motions followed.

The trial court ended up granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the family’s purported failure to prove “causation.” Essentially, the family’s argument was that the victim died as the result of an untreated drug withdrawal. The defendant presented expert testimony from a toxicologist who disputed this theory and suggested the victim probably died from heart disease.

The plaintiffs provided their own expert who testified in support of the drug withdrawal theory. But the trial court rejected this testimony because the doctor “was not experienced in the specialty of toxicology or pharmacology.” Several weeks after the judge made this determination, however, the plaintiffs identified a second expert whose testimony supported drug withdrawal as the cause of death. The trial judge declined to consider this new evidence and denied the plaintiffs’ motion to revise their complaint.

The Court of Appeals held this was a mistake. The second expert was legally qualified to testify, and his evidence created a “genuine issue of material fact on the element of causation.” The plaintiffs also moved “promptly” to substitute the new expert once the judge ruled their original witness was unqualified. Given this, and given “the policy of our courts to hear cases on their merits,” the Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs were entitled to revise their complaint to incorporate the qualified expert’s testimony.

Contact a Tennessee Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

Medical malpractice cases often turn on the credibility of expert witnesses. This is why it is important to work with an experienced Clinton personal injury lawyer who understands how to identify and work with such experts. If you been the victim of any kind of negligence and need advice on what steps to take next, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, today.



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