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Wade v. Jackson-Madison County Gen. Hosp. Dist.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

January 27, 2015

ERICA WADE, ET AL.
v.
JACKSON-MADISON COUNTY GENERAL HOSPITAL DISTRICT, ET AL

Session November 12, 2014.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded. Appeal from the Circuit Court for Madison County. No. C1332. Roy B. Morgan, Jr., Judge.

Louis P. Chiozza, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee and Steven R. Walker, Oakland, Tennessee, for the appellants, Erica Wade and Peggy Fly.

Patrick W. Rogers, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District.

Marty R. Phillips and Craig P. Sanders, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Armie Walker, M.D.

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, J., and BRANDON O. GIBSON, J., joined.

OPINION

Page 55

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant medical providers on the basis that the plaintiffs' health care liability complaint was filed after the expiration of the Governmental Tort Liability Act statute of limitations. Because we conclude that, under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(c), plaintiffs were entitled to a 120-day extension on the applicable statute of limitations, we reverse and remand.

OPINION

Background

On October 11, 2011, Plaintiff/Appellant Erica Wade (" the child" ) was admitted to Jackson Madison County General Hospital, owned by the Defendant/Appellee Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, to undergo a total abdominal hysterectomy. The procedure was performed by Defendant/Appellant Armie Walker, M.D, an employee of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District. The child experienced persistent pain after the operation, and another procedure was performed by Dr. Walker for exploratory purposes on October 17, 2011. Although it was later revealed that the child suffered from a colonic perforation, allegedly caused by the total abdominal hysterectomy, Dr. Walker did not discover the perforation during the exploratory procedure. The child was later discharged from the hospital, despite the fact that the child's medical records show that an abscess was found during the exploratory procedure. Over a month later, on November 29, 2011, the child was transferred to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where she was diagnosed with an untreated perforation. The child underwent additional surgery in an attempt to correct the perforation on December 1, 2011.

On February 6, 2013, the child and Plaintiff/Appellant Peggy Fly (" Mother," and together with the child " Appellants" ), individually and as attorney-in-fact for the child, filed a complaint for damages against the Defendants West Tennessee Healthcare Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District (" Jackson-Madison County Health Care District" ), West Tennessee Healthcare Network, Bolivar General Hospital, Inc., West Tennessee Healthcare OBGYN Services, Jackson Madison County General Hospital (collectively, " Defendant entities" ), and Dr. Walker (together with Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, " Appellees" ). The complaint was accompanied by a certificate of good faith pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-122. The complaint alleged that Dr. Walker breached the standard of care in treating the child by failing to detect that the child suffered from a colorectal perforation after surgery was performed on the child by Dr. Walker. According to the complaint, Dr. Walker's failure to timely diagnose and treat the child " is the source of continuous deterioration" of the child, including numerous complications, some of which are life-threatening. The complaint also alleged that the named entities were vicariously liable for Dr. Walker's negligence and that Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District was independently negligent in allowing a surgery to be performed

Page 56

on the child at its hospital when it was not properly equipped to perform such a surgery. The complaint further alleged that timely notice of the potential claim had been sent to the Appellees prior to the lawsuit so that the applicable one-year statute of limitations had been extended through operation of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(c) (2012).

The Defendant entities and Dr. Walker answered the complaint on March 18, 2013 and March 22, 2013, respectively. Both answers asserted that the case was governed by the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (" GTLA" ), denied the material allegations contained therein, and raised the affirmative defense of the expiration of the one-year GTLA statute of limitations.[1] On April 2, 2013, Dr. Walker petitioned the trial court for a qualified protective order pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(f) in order to interview the child's other treating physicians ex parte. On May 7, 2013, Appellants filed an amended certificate of good faith to correct a minor clerical error. The parties thereafter engaged in discovery.[2] The trial court granted Dr. Walker's motion for a qualified protective order on November 20, 2013.

On March 27, 2014, Dr. Walker filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Appellants' claim was barred by the GTLA statute of limitations. Dr. Walker asserted that the case was controlled by the recent Tennessee Supreme Court case of Cunningham v. Williamson County Hospital District, 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013), which held that the GTLA statute of limitations was not extended through compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121. Dr. Walker's motion was accompanied by a memorandum of law, a statement of undisputed facts, and the affidavit of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District's General Counsel. The Defendant entities filed a similar motion on April 1, 2014. The Appellants filed a response to both motions on April 11, 2014, arguing that the GTLA statute of limitations was extended by 120 days based on compliance with the notice requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121. Specifically, Appellants argued that Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121 was amended in October 2011 to state that the statute of limitations was extended by 120 days even in claims governed by the GTLA. Dr. Walker filed a reply on April 24, 2014, arguing that: (1) the amendment did not apply to the case because parts of the amendment were passed after the treatment at issue and the initiation of the lawsuit; and (2) even if the amendment applied, it did not constitute a clear directive that the GTLA statute of limitations should be extended through compliance with the notice provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121. On April 28, 2014, the Defendant entities filed a reply expressly incorporating the argument set forth by Dr. Walker.

The trial court held a hearing on the pending summary judgment motions on May 5, 2014. At the outset of the hearing, the parties agreed that summary judgment

Page 57

should be granted to all of the Defendant entities except Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District. Accordingly, an order was entered the same day granting summary judgment to all parties other than Dr. Walker and Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court ruled that it would grant summary judgment in favor of both Dr. Walker and Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District. Specifically, the court held that Cunningham, rather than the amended statute, was controlling, and as such, the GTLA statute of limitations was not extended through compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121. Because Appellants' complaint was filed more than one-year from the date of the allegedly negligent treatment, the trial court ruled that it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court entered an order granting summary judgment to Dr. Walker and Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District on May 21, 2014. Appellants timely appealed.

Issues Presented

Appellants raise one issue on appeal: Whether the trial court erred in concluding that Appellants were not entitled to the benefit of the 120-day extension provided in Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(c), and in granting summary judgment to the Appellees.

Standard of Review

A trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment presents a question of law. Our review is therefore de novo with no presumption of correctness afforded to the trial court's determination. Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997). This Court must make a fresh determination that all the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56 have been satisfied. Abshure v. Methodist Healthcare-Memphis Hosps., 325 S.W.3d 98, 103 (Tenn. 2010). When a motion for summary judgment is made, the moving party has the burden of showing that " there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. Further, according to the Tennessee General Assembly:

In motions for summary judgment in any civil action in Tennessee, the moving party who does not bear the burden of proof at trial shall prevail on its motion for summary judgment if it:
(1) Submits affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or
(2) Demonstrates to the court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.

Tenn. Code. Ann. § 20-16-101 (effective on claims filed after July 1, 2011).

Analysis

This case involves a single issue: whether the trial court correctly concluded that the Appellants were not entitled to a 120-day extension on the GTLA statute of limitations through their compliance with the notice provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121. As must be true in all summary judgment cases, the material facts are not in dispute. The child received the treatment alleged to have caused her injuries on October 11, 2011. Per the GTLA statute of limitations, her claim must have been filed within one year of the date of treatment. Her claim was not filed within one-year, but instead was filed on February 6, 2013. Prior to filing, ...


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