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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment on Parents’ Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim Following Child’s Death from Alleged Medical Malpractice

Septic shock is a very dangerous, potentially life-threatening medical condition that can occur when the body attempts to fight a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. Possible complications from septic shock include heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, liver failure, or respiratory failure.

Although septic shock can be fatal, a patient’s prognosis is better if the condition is promptly diagnosed and properly treated. Time is of the essence, and any delay can hurt a patient’s chances of recovery.

Facts of the Case

In a recently reported Tennessee appellate case, the plaintiffs were the parents of a child who passed away at the defendant hospital in April 2013. The child, who was 10 years old, had been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit of the hospital for septic shock related to the flu. According to the plaintiffs, the child was given fluids and medication, but no central line was placed, and no echocardiogram was performed (nor was a cardiology consult requested by the defendant). The child’s condition deteriorated, and she suffered cardiac arrest and, later, a stroke that led to brain death.

The plaintiffs filed suit in July 2014, alleging that the defendant had failed to provide reasonable medical care and treatment to the minor child. In addition to their wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs also sought to hold the defendant liable for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court dismissed the emotional distress claim, and the plaintiffs appealed.

Decision of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville

The appellate court reversed the Davidson County Circuit Court’s decision dismissing the plaintiffs’ negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. Although the defendant insisted that it could not be held liable on the emotional distress claim because the plaintiffs had not “witnessed an injury-producing event,” the court did not agree.

The court first acknowledged that a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was “an avenue for a plaintiff to recover for emotional injuries that result from another’s negligence.” The court went on to explain that there are two types of emotional distress claims:  those resulting from negligence that directly affects the victim and those in which the victim is a bystander. The court then characterized the plaintiffs’ claims as bystander claims and opined that they had provided prima facie evidence that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of not only their child’s injuries and death but also their own severe emotional injuries.

In a lengthy opinion that explored not only the history of negligent infliction of emotional distress claims in Tennessee but also the many arguments advanced by the defendant as to why it was entitled to summary judgment based on either existing Tennessee law or alternative sister-state rules that it urged the court to adopt, the court concluded by stating that the trial court erred in dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim “on the basis that [they] had not shown contemporaneous awareness of an injury-producing event,” and it remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Speak to a Knowledgeable East Tennessee Medical Negligence Lawyer

The idea of filing a lawsuit against a doctor or another medical care provider can be very daunting. We put a lot of confidence – and sometimes our very lives or the lives of our loved ones – into what we believe are competent hands, but those in the health care industry can and do make mistakes, just as everyone else does. If you believe that an act of medical negligence has resulted in an injury or a wrongful death, an established Knoxville medical malpractice lawyer at Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., can offer a free consultation. Call us at 865-524-5657 to set up a time to come in and discuss your Maryville, Oak Ridge, Sevierville, or other East Tennessee malpractice case.

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