The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (“Tennessee Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on September 28, 2017 that the trial court did not err in dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit alleging that an 86-year-old patient who was recovering from surgery in the intensive care unit of the defendant hospital when he was negligently brought hot coffee that he spilled on himself that caused severe burns after the nurse left the room, because it was a “health care liability action” subject to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (2012 & Supp. 2017), and the plaintiff failed to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA.
The Underlying Facts
The 86-year-old man fell and broke his hip on July 10, 2015 after which he was brought to the defendant hospital and had surgery either that day or the next day. On July 11, 2015, a nurse brought him a cup of coffee in the hospital’s intensive care unit and left it on his bedside table, after which she left his room. The man was on pain medication, had visible tremors in his hand, and had an O2 monitor on his index finger, which were the basis of the plaintiff’s claim that the man “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.”
The Tennessee Appellate Court stated that the issue presented is whether the trial court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s claim based upon the court’s determination that it falls within the THCLA’s definition of a “health care liability action.” The plaintiff did not allege nor argue that her claim falls within the “common knowledge” exception of the THCLA (i.e., a plaintiff’s complaint will not fail for failure to attach a certificate of good faith under section 29–26–122 if the matter is within the common knowledge of a layperson and if there is no need for expert proof).
Definition Of Health Claim Liability Action
The THCLA defines a “health care liability action” as any civil action . . . alleging that a health care provider or providers have caused an injury related to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services to a person, regardless of the theory of liability on which the action is based.
The THCLA defines “health care services” as follows: “Health care services to persons includes care by health care providers, which includes care by physicians, nurses, licensed practical nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy interns or pharmacy technicians under the supervision of a pharmacist, orderlies, certified nursing assistants, advance practice nurses, physician assistants, nursing technicians and other agents, employees and representatives of the provider, and also includes staffing, custodial or basic care, positioning, hydration and similar patient services.”
The Tennessee Appellate Court stated that the essence of the plaintiff’s claim is that the nurse was negligent because she knew, or should have known, that given the man’s mental and physical state, including the fact that he was under medication and recovering from a recent major surgery, he “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” The question is whether the nurse’s actions in bringing a cup of coffee to his hospital room and leaving it on his bedside table were “related to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101(a)(1)
Citing a prior Tennessee appellate court decision in which the appellate court held that the claims of the plaintiff in that case stemming from alleged rape in a hospital by hospital employees do not constitute a health care liability action, the Tennessee Appellate Court cited the language in that case that stated “had the original complaint brought a negligence claim against [the hospital] directly and asserted that it was liable due to its failure to provide appropriate care, supervision, or monitoring, the complaint would have alleged that a ‘health care provider . . . caused an injury related to the . . . failure to provide . . . health care services.'”
In the case it was deciding, the Tennessee Appellate Court held “[i]n the present case, plaintiff has alleged such a claim ‒ that [the defendant hospital’s] employee failed to provide appropriate supervision and monitoring of [the man] and his cup of dangerously hot coffee.”
Source Youngblood v. River Park Hospital, LLC, No. M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV
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