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Tennessee Supreme Court Says Common Knowledge Exception Applied in Health Care Liability Suit Against Salon for Masseur’s Alleged Sexual Assault

Pursuing a Knoxville personal injury case involves many steps. In addition to an investigation of the accident or other event giving rise to the potential litigation, certain paperwork must be filed with the court clerk in order to lodge the case with the appropriate trial court.

In most cases, this paperwork includes a summons and complaint, both of which must be filed with the clerk and served upon the defendant. In some kinds of cases, including those involving health care providers, there are other documents that may also need to be filed in order to perfect the filing of the complaint.

An attorney experienced in these types of cases can help a would-be plaintiff understand the filing requirements, assist him or her in preparation of the necessary documents, and represent the plaintiff’s interests during the litigation and trial of the matter. If an argument arises regarding whether all of the filing requirements have been met, the attorney can also prepare appellate briefs and argue the case in front of the appellate tribunal(s).

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted during a massage at the defendant’s salon and spa business in 2014. The plaintiff filed suit against the business in the Circuit Court for Shelby County, asserting claims for negligent training, negligent supervision, and negligent retention of the massage therapist (who was also named in the lawsuit and had been the subject of two previous complaints to the defendant from customers). The salon filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, asserting that the plaintiff’s failure to file a certificate of good faith along with her complaint as required by the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (in particular, § 29-26-122) was fatal to her claim. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed.

Decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Upon further appeal to the state’s highest court, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and vacated the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendant. The court began its analysis by acknowledging that the defendant salon was a “health care provider” within the meaning of the Act, thus triggering certain filing requirements. Although the defendant maintained that the plaintiff was required to file a certificate confirming that she (or her counsel) had consulted with an expert witness and that there was a good faith basis for her legal action, the plaintiff insisted that the certificate of good faith referred to by the defendant was not required, given the nature of her complaint, which she insisted did not require expert testimony in order to succeed on its merits.

The intermediate appellate court had agreed with the defendant, holding that the plaintiff had waived the “common knowledge” exception; the court had went on to further hold that the plaintiff’s claim did, despite her insistence to the contrary, require the testimony of an expert witness in order to be viable. The supreme court disagreed with both of these contentions, ruling that the plaintiff had not waived the common knowledge exception and that the plaintiff’s claim against the salon was within the common knowledge of laypersons and, thus, did not require expert testimony about the standard of care in the massage industry. Because there was no requirement to file a certificate of good faith under the circumstances, the trial court should not have granted summary judgment to the defendant.

To Speak to an Attorney About an East Tennessee Injury Lawsuit

If you have been hurt by a negligent individual or business, you need to consult an attorney about your legal rights. Knoxville personal injury lawyer Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm is here to help those in and around the east Tennessee area with a wide array of injury and wrongful death claims, including medical malpractice, car accidents, and product liability. For an appointment, call us at 865-524-5657. We are open during the COVID-19 crisis, and we will make every effort to serve you in the safest manner possible in these trying times.

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