Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order entered by the trial court in this case, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(f) is unconstitutional as enacted to the limited extent that it divests trial courts of their inherent discretion over discovery and that the statute can be elided to make it permissive and not mandatory upon trial courts. Plaintiff filed this healthcare liability wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent alleging that Defendant's negligent treatment of the decedent resulted in the decedent's death. During discovery, Defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order pursuant to section 29-26-121(f), which allows defense counsel to conduct ex parte interviews with patients' non-party treating healthcare providers in a healthcare liability lawsuit. In response, Plaintiff argued that the statute is unconstitutional because it deprives the trial court of its inherent authority over court proceedings. The trial court entered a written qualified protective order allowing the interviews. The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order, holding (1) section 29-26-121(f) impermissibly intrudes on the authority of the judiciary over procedural matters; and (2) the unconstitutional portion of the statute may be elided, and the statute as elided is constitutional. View "Willeford v. Klepper" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative questions of law certified from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the constitutionality of Tennessee's statutory cap on noneconomic damages, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-30-102, holding that the statutory cap does not violate the right to trial by jury, the doctrine of separation of powers, or the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution. Specifically, the Supreme Court answered (1) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Tenn. Const. art. I, 6; (2) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch; and (3) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate the Tennessee Constitution by discriminating disproportionately against women. View "McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this healthcare liability action, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court denying Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend after concluding that Plaintiffs' sole expert witness was not competent to testify on causation and granting summary judgment to Defendant, holding that the trial court's decision was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions of the motion to alter or amend. In Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend Plaintiffs proffered causation testimony from a new expert witness. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court abused its discretion. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that the trial court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend was an abuse of discretion because the trial court's decision was within the parameters of the court's sound discretion. View "Harmon v. Hickman Community Healthcare Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this declaratory judgment action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court denying a claimant's motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of an insurance company and allow the claimant to intervene as a necessary party, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the claimant was not a necessary party and the trial court could decide the coverage dispute between the insurance company and its insured without the claimant's participation in the action. The claimant sued the insured for damages arising from an automobile accident. The insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that the company was not required to provide liability coverage to the insured. The trial court awarded the insurance company a default judgment. The claimant moved to set aside the default judgment and allow her to intervene on the basis that she was a necessary party. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the claimant had no interest affected by the dispute between the insurance company and its insured; and (2) therefore, the trial court had authority to grant declaratory relief because all necessary parties were before the court. View "Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Debruce" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court in favor of Defendant in this wrongful death action, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was not liable for negligently facilitating the decedent's suicide. While staying alone in Defendant's home, the decedent, who was an adult, committed suicide by shooting herself with an unsecured gun in Defendant's home. The decedent's estate brought this action alleging that Defendant should have known that the decedent was potentially suicidal and that he negligently facilitated the suicide by failing to secure the gun. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the evidence was insufficient for a trier of fact to find that the decedent's suicide was a reasonably foreseeable probability; and (2) therefore, the decedent's suicide constituted a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation, cutting off any liability of Defendant to the estate. View "Cotten v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In this defamation action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court’s order granting Plaintiff’s motion to compel Defendants, a media outlet and a reporter, to respond to discovery requests to which Defendants objected on the basis of Tennessee’s news media shield law, Tenn. Code Ann. 24-1-208(a), holding that the trial court erred by granting Plaintiff’s motion to compel. As relevant to this appeal, the court of appeals determined that (1) a showing of malice cannot defeat the fair report privilege, and (2) an assertion of the fair report privilege exempts defendants from part of the protections of the shield law. The Supreme Court affirmed on separate grounds and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) neither actual nor express malice defeats the fair report privilege, the only limitations on the privilege being that a report of an official action or proceeding must be fair and accurate; and (2) the fair report privilege is a defense based upon a source of information that renders the source of the statements the plaintiff alleges to be defamatory unprotected by the shield law. View "Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc." on Justia Law

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A surviving spouse maintains priority to file a wrongful death action when the decedent’s child has also filed a wrongful death action in which the child alleges that the surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The daughter of the decedent in this case filed a wrongful death action alleging that the decedent’s surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The surviving spouse also filed a wrongful death action for the decedent’s death. The surviving spouse moved for dismissal of the daughter’s complaint, arguing that the surviving spouse had priority to file a wrongful death action. The trial court agreed and dismissed the daughter’s complaint. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that, under the circumstances of this case, the surviving spouse was disqualified from filing the wrongful death action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court properly dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death action because (1) the wrongful death statutes do not include an exception to the rule that surviving spouses have the priority to institute a wrongful death action when a spouse’s alleged negligence caused the decedent’s death; and (2) the surviving spouse did not waive his right to file the wrongful death action under the circumstances of this case. View "Nelson v. Myres" on Justia Law

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Charity Spires and Plaintiff-Appellee Kenneth Spires married and had one child, Uriah. A month after Uriah was born, Kenneth abandoned Charity and the child. Though the Spires did not divorce, Kenneth never returned to the marital home. Charity died in an automobile accident involving Defendant Haley Simpson. Custody of Uriah was awarded to his maternal grandmother, Constance Ogle, who served as administrator of Charity's estate. Kenneth filed this wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson and her parents. Ogle sought to intervene. While she acknowledged Kenneth was the Decedent's surviving spouse, Ogle argued he should be disqualified from prosecuting the lawsuit because he owed child support arrearages, and because the abandoned the Decedent and Uriah. While Ogle’s motion to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit was still pending, a Chancery Court entered an order of adoption, permitting the Decedent’s brother, Captain (now Major) Dana Trent Hensley, Jr., M.D., to adopt Uriah. The adoption order terminated Kenneth's parental rights as to Uriah. Ultimately the trial court granted the motion to intervene, dismissed Kenneth from the suit and substituted Ogle and Major Hensley as plaintiffs. Kenneth appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that as the surviving spouse, Kenneth was not disqualified from commencing and maintaining the wrongful death action, notwithstanding the child support obligation. Because Kenneth was not statutorily disqualified from bringing the action, the Court of Appeals held that he was the proper plaintiff and that Kenneth and Uriah were each entitled to half of the settlement proceeds under the laws of intestate succession. Based on Kenneth's stipulation that he owed almost $72,000 in child support for four other children, the appellate court determined that his entire portion of the lawsuit proceeds had to be paid towards his outstanding child support obligations through the Child Support Receipting Unit. The Tennessee Supreme Court held the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) were intended to apply only to cases in which the “parent” who seeks to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit was a parent of the decedent child, and the child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Neither statute was applicable under the facts of this case. Consequently, the Court reversed and vacated the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals applying Sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) in this case. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spires v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In this wrongful death case, the court of appeals erred by vacating the trial court’s order and remanding the case for further proceedings without reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the decedent’s child’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion. The decedent’s mother, in her capacity as her unmarried son’s next of kind, filed this wrongful death suit, seeking damages. The case was settled and dismissed. Almost twenty months later, the decedent’s alleged minor child filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the order of dismissal and to be substituted as the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds that it was not timely filed. The court of appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling, ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not ripe for adjudication until the trial court conclusively established the child’s paternity. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding (1) the court of appeals erred by focusing on issues surrounding the child’s paternity rather than reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the Rule 60.02 motion; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not timely filed. View "Hussey v. Woods" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a home inspector owes a duty of reasonable care to a homeowner’s guest. Plaintiff was injured when he fell from a second story deck that had not been properly constructed but had recently been inspected by a state home inspector hired by the homeowner. Plaintiff sued the home inspector, home inspection franchise, and other defendants not relevant to this appeal. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendants successfully negated essential elements of the claims of negligent misrepresentation and negligent inspection and that summary judgment was appropriate. View "Grogan v. Uggla" on Justia Law