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When Can a Tennessee Judge Impose Sanctions Against a Person Who Brings a Medical Malpractice Case?


Tennessee law is often quite hostile to victims of medical malpractice. Unlike other personal injury plaintiffs, malpractice victims must file a “certificate of good faith” prepared by a qualified medical professional. This certificate basically provides an expert opinion that the plaintiff has a legitimate basis to bring their malpractice case.

In the absence of competent expert testimony, a judge will dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Additionally, Tennessee law permits the court to order the plaintiff (or their attorney) to pay monetary sanctions to the defense. When determining whether to impose sanctions, the judge can order the plaintiff to provide a copy of the original written statements signed by their expert witness.

Court Declines to Sanction Pharmacist for Trying to Shift Blame to Doctor

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed what it called one of its “first opportunities to consider a motion for sanctions” as described above. This particular case, Smith v. Outen, involved a somewhat unusual situation. Rather than seeking sanctions against the plaintiff who filed the original medical malpractice lawsuit, however, one defendant attempted to sanction a previously dismissed defendant.

Here is what happened. The plaintiff in this case initially sued her pharmacy, alleging they had prescribed her the incorrect medication. Initially, the plaintiff claimed her physician directed her to immediately stop taking the drug in question. The pharmacy then offered comparative fault as an affirmative defense. In plain English, they tried to shift the blame to the doctor, alleging he should have directed the plaintiff to slowly reduce her drug dosage over time.

As with the original malpractice allegations, the pharmacy defendant also had to file a certificate of good faith alleging they had competent expert testimony to support the comparative fault claim. The problem was that the pharmacy’s certificate was signed by the owner of the pharmacy itself. The trial judge determined this was inadequate to support the pharmacy’s counterclaim against the physician. That being said, the judge declined to order sanctions, noting the pharmacist technically acted in good faith.

The doctor appealed this ruling. The Court of Appeals ended up affirming the trial court, however, noting that the pharmacist’s certificate and written statement in support did “comply with the plain language” of Tennessee’s medical malpractice statutes. The doctor wanted the appellate court to go a step further and sanction the pharmacy for improperly offering the pharmacist as an expert witness competent to testify on the proper standard of care for a primary care physician. But as the Court of Appeals pointed out, the pharmacy never actually offered the pharmacist as such an expert witness. Indeed, the pharmacist admitted during a deposition he could not offer such testimony. So the mere fact he signed the original good faith certificate was not, in and of itself, enough to order sanctions.

Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today

Medical malpractice litigation is full of pitfalls designed to protect negligent doctors and health care providers. This is why it is essential to work with an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer when pursuing these cases. If you need legal advice or representation, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, today to schedule a free consultation.




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