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Tennessee Supreme Court Rules in Plaintiff’s Favor as to Procedural Requirement in Medical Malpractice Case

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to hold negligent medical providers legally liable for the harm that they cause. Among the reasons for this are the various procedural hurdles that have been put in place for those who file malpractice claims.

Failing to comply with these procedural requirements can result in the dismissal of a plaintiff’s otherwise valid claim for medical negligence.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case under consideration by the state’s highest court, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who committed suicide at a hospital in Memphis in 2003. At the time, the man was allegedly under the psychiatric care of the defendant doctor. The plaintiff filed a health care liability case against the defendant in 2004, asserting a claim of negligence. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed that case in 2010.

A year later, indicating her intent to refile the lawsuit under the provisions of the Tennessee savings statutes (which allows a plaintiff who voluntarily dismisses an action to refile within one year, providing that certain conditions are met), the plaintiff sent a pre-suit notice of her wrongful death claim to the defendant. Along with the pre-suit notice, the plaintiff included a medical authorization. After the plaintiff refiled her claim, the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit on the basis that she had failed to provide a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) compliant medical authorization under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E).

The Circuit Court of Shelby County granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing that the plaintiff was required to furnish a HIPAA-compliant authorization with the pre-suit notice, even though the defendant was the only health care provider notified of the claim. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s application for permission to appeal.

Decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court

The supreme court reversed and remanded, holding that, “based on the clear and unambiguous language of § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), a plaintiff need not provide a HIPAA-compliant authorization when a single healthcare provider is given pre-suit notice of a healthcare liability claim.” According to the court, the purpose of the authorization is to allow a potential defendant access to the patient’s records from other medical providers also named in the pre-suit notice. Since only a single provider was named in the notice, a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization was not required.

Talk to a Helpful Knoxville Injury Lawyer

Litigating a medical negligence case can be difficult and costly, and a seemingly minor procedural error can be fatal to a would-be litigant’s claim. Therefore, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after discovering that you or a loved one may have been a victim of a medical mistake. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Knoxville medical malpractice attorney regarding your claim, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657 today. We serve all of east Tennessee, including Maryville, Alcoa, Oak Ridge, Clinton, and Strawberry Plains.

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