The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (“Tennessee Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on May 2, 2017, that “it would be within the common knowledge of a layperson whether an EMT’s alleged negligent, reckless, or intentional striking of a patient’s face while the patient is strapped to a gurney would fall below the standard of care. Because this alleged act would not require expert proof to “aid in the understanding of this issue,” the trial court erred by failing to determine that this case fell within the common knowledge exception. Because no expert proof was necessary to establish negligence, no certificate of good faith would be required pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-122. Therefore, the trial court should not have dismissed [the plaintiff’s] action with prejudice for failing to file a certificate of good faith.”
The plaintiff had filed a lawsuit against an EMT, alleging that he sustained injuries on April 21, 2014 when the defendant EMT “negligently and carelessly” struck the plaintiff in the face with his fist. The plaintiff alleged that he was strapped to a gurney and under the EMT’s care at the time the blow occurred.
The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), arguing that the plaintiff’s action was, in actuality, a health care liability action because the EMT was a health care provider and the plaintiff’s injuries were “related to” the provision of health care services (Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101(a)(1)). Therefore the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed because he failed to provide the requisite pre-suit notice and failed to file a certificate of good faith. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and -122.
The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, specifically finding that “the degree of restraint necessary to contain a patient in order to provide medical treatment certainly involves the provision of medical services” and that the “common knowledge” exception did not apply because “as set forth previously, the degree of restraint necessary to contain an individual in order to provide medical treatment is not something that is within the common knowledge of a lay person.” The plaintiff appealed.
The Tennessee Appellate Court noted that the plaintiff’s complaint contained no allegations regarding “restraint necessary to contain an individual in order to provide medical treatment” and that a reasonable and plausible inference could be drawn that the plaintiff was already fully restrained at the time of the physical contact, based upon his allegation that he was “strapped to a gurney,” which would suggest that the force used by the EMT may have been excessive. Because the trial court was required, upon analyzing a motion to dismiss, to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor, the Tennessee Appellate Court held that the trial court improperly drew the inference that the EMT hit the plaintiff in the face in order to restrain him.
In responding to the defendant’s argument that expert testimony would be required to establish whether the defendant’s alleged actions actually caused the plaintiff’s claimed injuries and whether damages resulted therefrom because the plaintiff’s underlying medical issues might have been the cause of his injuries, the Tennessee Appellate Court stated that there is nothing in the record to suggest that the plaintiff’s underlying injuries or medical condition that precipitated his contact with the defendant EMT were in any way related or similar to the injuries he allegedly suffered from being struck in the face.
The Tennessee Appellate Court stated that drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor does not unavoidably lead to the conclusion that he could not prove causation or damages without expert medical proof. Therefore, the Tennessee Appellate Court held that the trial court erred by dismissing the plaintiff’s action with prejudice based on his failure to file a certificate of good faith.
Source Zink v. Rural/Metro Of Tennessee, L.P., E2016-01581-COA-R3-CV
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