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Walton ex rel. Walton v. Tullahoma HMA, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 7, 2018

SUSAN WALTON EX REL. JAMES WALTON
v.
TULLAHOMA HMA, LLC

         Session: March 27, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 40937 Vanessa Jackson, Judge

         This is a case of healthcare liability and wrongful death. After the decedent's death at a Tullahoma hospital, his surviving spouse filed suit seeking damages for his injuries and death. The case was eventually tried before a jury, and a verdict was returned in favor of the Plaintiff. Although the jury determined that the total damages were $300, 000, the trial court suggested an additur of over $1, 000, 000. An amended final judgment was subsequently entered after the trial court determined that the Defendant had accepted the additur under protest. Because we are of the opinion that the trial court's additur destroyed the jury's verdict, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the case for a new trial.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded

          Mark T. Smith, Amy R. Mohan, and Andrea J. Sinclair, Nashville, Tennessee, and William C. Rieder, Tullahoma, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tullahoma HMA, LLC d/b/a Harton Regional Medical Center.

          William D. Leader and Paul J. Krog, Nashville, Tennessee, and Andy Peters Davis, Winchester, Tennessee, for the appellee, Susan Walton.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 27, 2012, James Walton was admitted to Harton Regional Medical Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee for treatment of kidney stones. Following his admission to the hospital, Mr. Walton was placed on a patient controlled analgesia pain pump ("PCA pump"), which was programmed to deliver set amounts of morphine to him at certain intervals when a button on the pump was pressed. This allowed Mr. Walton to administer morphine to himself, and it is undisputed that he used the PCA pump in this manner following its provision to him by the hospital. Moreover, according to Mr. Walton's wife, Susan Walton, she was instructed by a nurse to press her husband's PCA pump button while he was sleeping in order to "keep ahead of the pain." Mrs. Walton complied with this alleged instruction and pressed the PCA pump button regularly throughout the night following her husband's admittance.

         Unfortunately, Mr. Walton's life was in peril by the following morning. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., Mrs. Walton noticed that her husband was not breathing. Mrs. Walton subsequently contacted the nursing staff, a code was called, and Mr. Walton was resuscitated. It was later determined that Mr. Walton had suffered a brain injury, and he was taken off life support a few days later on December 2, 2012.

         Following her husband's death, in January 2014, Mrs. Walton commenced the present action in Circuit Court against Tullahoma HMA, LLC ("the Defendant"), the entity that operates the hospital where Mr. Walton was treated. Her complaint sought to "recover damages for James Walton's injuries and wrongful death" and averred that the Defendant was vicariously responsible for the negligent actions and omissions committed by the hospital staff. In outlining the specific wrongs allegedly giving rise to liability, the complaint asserted as follows:

Tullahoma HMA, LLC d/b/a Harton Regional Medical Center, acting through its employees, agents and representatives was negligent in its care and treatment of James Walton in that such care and treatment fell below the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice for nursing staff and hospitals in this or similar communities in the following respects:
a. Failed to appropriately treat, manage, care for and monitor James Walton;
b. Failed to adequately train, supervise and monitor the nurses, hospital staff, employees and agents providing care to James Walton;
c. Failed to establish, promulgate, enforce and follow appropriate rules, regulations, policies, guidelines and procedures for the management and operation of a PCA pump;
d. Failed to educate nurses, hospital staff, employees and agents on the safe use of a PCA pump and the potential effect of opioid therapy on sedation and respiratory depression; and
e. Failed to act with ordinary and reasonable care and in accordance with the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice and care for hospitals, nursing staff and hospital personnel in Tullahoma, Tennessee and similar communities.

         The complaint asserted that Mrs. Walton was entitled to recover for Mr. Walton's medical expenses as well as the pecuniary value of his life. In addition, the complaint specifically claimed that a loss of consortium had been sustained with regard to the relationships that ...


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