On February 14, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a medical battery claim, holding that a claim alleging medical battery (a claim that an unauthorized procedure was performed) is not subject to the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (“TMMA”) and therefore the plaintiffs were not subject to the notice and heightened pleading requirements of the TMMA.
Medical Battery Versus Medical Malpractice
Medical battery is an intentional tort (an unpermitted touching of the plaintiff by the defendant or by some object set in motion by the defendant) whereas medical malpractice sounds in negligence.
Medical Battery Versus Lack Of Informed Consent
Medical battery is closely related to a claim arising from a doctor’s failure to obtain informed consent but it is a distinct claim. The issue in an informed consent claim is whether the patient’s lack of information negated her consent whereas in a medical battery claim the issue is whether the patient consented at all.
Tennessee Medical Battery Claims
In Tennessee, there are two questions that determine whether a claim is for medical battery: (1) was the patient aware that the doctor was going to perform the procedure (e.g., did the patient know that the dentist was going to perform a root canal on a specified tooth or that the doctor was going to perform surgery on the specified knee?); and, if so (2) did the patient authorize performance of the procedure? Only if the answer is “no” to both questions that a claim may be made for medical battery.
The Underlying Facts
A woman who was treated in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) died on June 23, 2011. The lawsuit filed by her two children on their own behalf and on behalf of their mother’s estate against the woman’s doctors, the hospital, and the clinic where she had been receiving treatment alleged that the woman and her doctors were aware of her heparin allergy; that the woman wore a medical bracelet listing her heparin allergy; that her heparin allergy was noted in her medical records; that on a number of occasions, medical staff injected the woman with heparin in direct contradiction to her specific directive not to give her heparin of any kind; that the medical staff injected her with heparin shortly before her death; and, that the heparin injections proximately caused her death. The lawsuit alleged both negligence and medical battery.
The federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that the facts alleged did not present a claim for medical battery under Tennessee law because the heparin injections were not “procedures” or “treatments” for the purposes of medical battery but rather were therapeutic drug treatments that were only component parts of the woman’s treatment process that the defendants did not need her specific consent to administer. The federal judge therefore concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims sounded in negligence and that the plaintiffs were required to comply with the requirements of the TMMA, which they failed to do.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (“Appeals Court”) looked to the dictionary definition of “procedure” (“a surgical or (later) other therapeutic or diagnostic operation or technique”) and held that Tennessee law supports a claim for medical battery where drugs are administered over the patient’s objections or despite the patient’s contrary instruction. The Appeals Court held that “the complaint makes out a case for nonconsensual contact (an injection) that violated [the woman’s] right to bodily integrity and that proximately caused her death—in short, a battery.”
Shuler, et al. v. Garrett, et al., No. 12-6270. Click here to read the Shuler opinion.
If you or a loved one were injured as a result of medical battery and/or medical negligence in Tennessee or in another state in the U.S., you should promptly seek the legal advice of a Tennessee medical malpractice attorney (or a medical malpractice attorney in your state) who may investigate your claim for you and represent you in a medical battery case and/or medical negligence case, if appropriate.
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