CHRISTOPHER O'DNEAL, ET AL.
BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL-TIPTON, ET AL.
Session November 14, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Tipton County No. 6692 Joe H.
Walker, III, Judge.
parents of infant who died in child birth appeal a jury
verdict in favor of the medical provider defendants. During
voir dire, the trial court denied Plaintiffs' request for
additional peremptory challenges under Tennessee Code
Annotated section 22-3-104(b) on the basis that Plaintiffs
were bringing their claim on behalf of the decedent infant.
Based upon the Tennessee Supreme Court's decision in
Beard v. Branson, 528 S.W.3d 487 (Tenn. 2017), we
conclude that the trial court erred in treating Plaintiffs as
a single "party plaintiff" and that Plaintiffs were
entitled to eight peremptory challenges under the statute at
issue. We also hold that under Tuggle v. Allright Parking
Sys., Inc., 922 S.W.2d 107 (Tenn. 1996), the trial
court's error resulted in prejudice to the judicial
process that necessitates a new trial. All other issues are
pretermitted. Reversed and remanded.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed and Remanded
Bryan Smith, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellants,
Christopher O'DNeal, and Cassani Turner.
L. Kirby and Tabitha F. McNabb, Memphis, Tennessee, for the
appellee, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton.
T. McColgan and Sherry S. Fernandez, Cordova, Tennessee, and
Sybil V. Newton, Birmingham, Alabama, for the appellees,
Thomas J. Caruthers, Jr., M.D., and Premier Women's Care,
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Arnold
B. Goldin, J., joined.
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.
Christopher O'Dneal ("Father") and Cassani
Turner ("Mother, " and together with Father,
"Plaintiffs") are the parents of an infant who died
in child birth in February 2009 at Defendant/Appellee Baptist
Memorial Hospital-Tipton ("the Hospital"). On April
6, 2010, Mother, individually and as administrator of the
child's estate, and Father, individually and as the
child's next of kin, filed a complaint against the
Hospital, the treating physician Thomas Caruthers, Jr., M.D.,
and Premier Women's Care, Inc. ("Premier Women's
Care" and together with the Hospital and Dr. Caruthers,
"Defendants"). The complaint alleged negligence and
vicarious liability for the wrongful death of their child.
Eventually, Plaintiffs were permitted to file an amended
complaint to raise claims of negligent infliction of
emotional distress. Defendants in turn filed separate
answers, denying that they committed negligence or that their
negligence was the proximate cause of the infant's death.
Dr. Caruthers and Premier Women's Care also asserted that
neither Mother nor Father had individual claims apart from
the wrongful death action and that the individual claims of
both parents should be dismissed.
to trial, Defendants also filed a motion in limine to exclude
a "home video" taken of the child's birth. The
trial court granted the motion to exclude the video by order
of November 30, 2015, finding that the prejudicial effect of
the evidence substantially outweighed its probative value.
began on May 10, 2016, and lasted six days. During voir dire,
Plaintiffs requested eight peremptory challenges pursuant to
Tennessee Code Annotated section 22-3-104(b), arguing that
eight challenges were required because there were two
"party plaintiffs." The trial court denied the
request, finding that "it's really the estate's
lawsuit" and granted Plaintiffs four peremptory
challenges, with two additional challenges for alternates.
Defendants were given eight challenges without objection.
Plaintiffs utilized all of their peremptory challenges during
voir dire and indicated on a form contained in the record
that they had no remaining challenges. Also during voir dire,
Plaintiffs lodged a challenge to the exclusion of a juror by
the Hospital on the basis of race. The trial court determined
that Plaintiffs had set forth a prima facie challenge under
Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90
L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). The Hospital then stated that the
exclusion of the juror was on the basis of her possible bias
in favor of Dr. Caruthers and an alleged derogatory name used
by the potential juror for one of the Hospital's doctors.
The trial court thereafter allowed the juror to be excluded.
trial, much of the testimony concerned whether the
child's death was due to negligence or a pre-existing
condition with a multitude of experts testifying for each
side. At the close of proof, the trial court granted a
directed verdict as to Plaintiffs' negligent infliction
of emotional distress claim, generally finding that the claim
had been abandoned. Thereafter, the jury returned a verdict
finding that Dr. Caruthers and the Hospital were guilty of
medical negligence but that the child's death was not
caused by Defendants' negligence. The trial court entered
judgment on the jury verdict on May 18, 2016. Plaintiffs
later filed a motion for new trial, which was denied by order
on August 8, 2016. This appeal followed.
raise three issues in this case, which are taken and slightly
restated from their brief:
1. Whether the trial court erred in limiting Plaintiffs to
less than eight peremptory challenges?
2. Whether the trial court erred in denying Plaintiffs'
challenge to the striking of an African-American juror.
3. Whether the trial court erred in excluding the video of
the delivery of the infant at trial.
begin with Plaintiffs' first issue: that the trial court
erred in determining that they were entitled to less than
eight peremptory challenges under Tennessee Code Annotated
section 22-3-104 in this wrongful death action. "The right
to challenge peremptorily is the right to exclude the
prospective juror without assigning any reason for the
challenge. Peremptory challenges are allowed by the
Legislature as an act of grace and can be exercised as a
matter of right only to the extent allowed by statute."
Tuggle v. Allright Parking Sys., Inc., 922
S.W.2d 105, 107 (Tenn. 1996). In deciding this issue, we are
called upon to interpret various statutes. As explained by
our supreme court:
When determining the meaning of statutes, our primary goal
"is to carry out legislative intent without broadening
or restricting the statute beyond its intended scope."
Johnson v. Hopkins, 432 S.W.3d 840, 848 (Tenn. 2013)
(quoting Lind v. Beaman Dodge, Inc., 356 S.W.3d 889,
895 (Tenn. 2011)). We presume that every word in a statute
[or rule] has meaning and purpose and that each word's
meaning should be given full effect as long as doing so does
not frustrate the [drafter's] obvious intention.
Id. Words "'must be given their natural and
ordinary meaning in the context in which they appear and in
light of the statute's general purpose.'"
Id. (quoting Mills v. Fulmarque, Inc., 360
S.W.3d 362, 368 (Tenn. 2012)). When a statute's meaning
is clear, we "'apply the plain meaning without
complicating the task' and enforce the statute as
written." Id. (quoting Lind, 356
S.W.3d at 895).
Ellithorpe v. Weismark, 479 S.W.3d 818, 827 (Tenn.
2015). Issues of statutory construction are reviewed by this
Court de novo with no presumption of correctness.
McFarland v. Pemberton, 530 S.W.3d 76, 91 (Tenn.
2017) (quoting Martin v. Powers, 505 S.W.3d 512, 518
such, we begin with the language of the statute at issue.
See McFarland, 530 S.W.3d at 91 (quoting
Martin, 505 S.W.3d at 518) ("[W]e begin with
the actual words of the statute . . . ...