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Bloomfield v. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 26, 2015

KEVIN BLOOMFIELD
v.
THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY

Session Date December 9, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 09C3451 Joseph P. Binkley, Jr., Judge

Patrick John Bradley, Christopher Michael Lackey, and Andrew David McClanahan, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Larry R. McElhaney, II, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kevin Bloomfield.

Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

OPINION

FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., JUDGE

Kevin Bloomfield, a firefighter-paramedic for the Nashville Fire Department, responded to an emergency call on October 9, 2008, involving an elderly patient who was experiencing shortness of breath. Moments later, Michael Hall, a paramedic with the Nashville Fire Department, arrived in an ambulance. When Mr. Hall went inside the home, he found Mr. Bloomfield with the patient who was in a wheelchair.

Following an assessment of the patient's condition, Mr. Bloomfield and Mr. Hall decided that the wheelchair-bound patient needed to be transported to a hospital; Mr. Bloomfield took the position at the head of the patient, and Mr. Hall took the position at the foot of the patient. While moving the patient down the hallway into the living room, Mr. Bloomfield was pushing the wheelchair forward and Mr. Hall was pulling in a crouched position at the foot of the wheelchair. When they reached the front door of the house, they realized there was a raised door jamb with a six-inch drop from the floor of the house to the front porch.

Prior to initiating a lift to move the wheelchair-bound patient to the porch, Mr. Bloomfield told Mr. Hall to "hang on a minute" so that Mr. Bloomfield could ask a question of the patient's family members. Believing Mr. Hall heard him because the wheelchair stopped, Mr. Bloomfield let go of the wheelchair and turned to the family members; however, Mr. Hall had not heard Mr. Bloomfield. Assuming that Mr. Bloomfield was prepared to initiate a lift of the wheelchair, Mr. Hall proceeded to raise the front wheels of the wheelchair. As a result of Mr. Hall's unilateral lift, the wheelchair began tilting backwards. When Mr. Bloomfield saw the wheelchair tilting backwards, he reached out with his right arm to prevent the patient from hitting her head on the floor. As he grabbed the wheelchair, Mr. Bloomfield felt a sharp pain in his back and a pop in his shoulder.

Immediately following the incident, Mr. Bloomfield discussed his injury with Captain George Owen, the commanding officer in charge of the scene, and the two filled out a 101 Metro Form for detailing occupational injuries. Within the Form, Captain Owen listed the cause of the incident as "the paramedic lift[ing] the front wheel of patient's wheelchair causing patient to fall backwards." Captain Owen further stated on the Form that there was no unsafe act of Mr. Bloomfield leading to his injuries, that Mr. Bloomfield followed protocol, had never been written up for violating protocol, and that he responded correctly when the wheelchair tipped backwards towards him. In addition, Captain Owen noted on the Form that an unsafe condition included "no communication between medic and fire personnel."

On October 1, 2009, Mr. Bloomfield timely commenced this action against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro") asserting that the injuries he sustained were caused by the negligence of a Metro employee, Michael Hall.[1] Specifically, Mr. Bloomfield alleged that his injuries resulted from Mr. Hall's failure to follow proper safety procedures and protocols regarding the movement of a wheelchair-bound patient by initiating a lift of the wheelchair-bound patient without communicating that intent to Mr. Bloomfield.

Mr. Bloomfield moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, relying on the deposition testimony of several Metro employees to prove that Metro established the standard for lifting a patient in a wheelchair, that Mr. Hall admitted that he violated that standard, and that Metro employees admitted that Mr. Bloomfield did nothing wrong. Following a hearing on the motion, the trial court granted partial summary judgment on the liability issue in favor of Mr. Bloomfield, finding:

[T]here is no genuine issue [of] material fact concerning the protocol and procedures which required Kevin Bloomfield as the person at the head of the wheelchair on October 9, 2008, to initiate and communicate the lift. The record is clear and undisputed that Michael Hall, an employee of Metro, violated and admitted to violating the procedures and protocols by lifting the front of the wheelchair before Mr. Bloomfield was ready or initiated the lift.
The Court rejects the arguments of Metro that no lift occurred or is disputed to have occurred. The Court finds that all of the deponents in the case referred to the maneuver performed by Mr. Hall as a lift on October 9, 2008. Metro established the policies and Mr. Hall admitted to violating the procedures and protocols.
The Court further finds that there are no facts in dispute in the record to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding Mr. Bloomfield's comparative fault. The Court finds as a matter of law that Mr. Bloomfield is not comparatively at fault and bears no legal responsibility for his injury.

Thereafter, the case went to trial on the issue of damages. The trial court found that Mr. Bloomfield had sustained damages in the aggregate amount of $1, 044, 594, but entered a judgment of $300, 000, the maximum amount available under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. In addition, Mr. Bloomfield was awarded $3, 358.25 in discretionary costs.[2]

Metro appeals the award of summary judgment on the issue of liability contending that there are genuine issues of material fact regarding the procedure or protocol for moving a patient in a wheelchair, whether or not a lift of the wheelchair occurred triggering the need to communicate, whether Mr. Hall was negligent, and whether Mr. Bloomfield was comparatively at fault for his injury. Metro does not directly appeal the assessment of damages sustained by Mr. Bloomfield, but requests ...


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