Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TN Supreme Court reviews whether the Family Purpose Doctrine applies to a father who did not reside in the same household as his son

ARLENE R. STARR v. PAUL B. HILL, SR., ET AL. (Tenn. August 31, 2011)

A father and his sixteen-year-old son were sued after the son was involved in an accident while driving a vehicle owned, insured, and provided to him by his father. The basis for the suit against the father was the family purpose doctrine, which imposes vicarious liability on the owner of a vehicle for the negligent operation of the vehicle by a family member.

Whether the family purpose doctrine applies to the father requires us to address these issues: (1) whether the father, who does not reside in the same household as the son, was a head of the household under the family purpose doctrine; (2) whether the vehicle was maintained for the comfort or pleasure of the family or solely for use by the son; and (3) whether the vehicle was being driven with the father's permission such that he had control over its use.

The essential elements of the family purpose doctrine are that the owner must be a head of the household who furnishes and maintains the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort for the family, and at the time of the injury, the vehicle must have been driven in furtherance of that purpose with the head of the household's express or implied permission.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the father, finding that the family purpose doctrine did not apply. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the family purpose doctrine applied to the father as a matter of law. We hold that the father was a head of the household because he had a family relationship with his son and a duty to support his son and the father furnished and maintained the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort to the family. However, a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the father had sufficient control over the vehicle. We vacate the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand for trial.

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TWCA reviews employee's motion to compel medical treatment


When the employer refused to provide another panel of physicians following the employee's negative drug screen result, the employee filed a motion to compel medical treatment. The trial court ordered the employer to provide a panel of three doctors for pain treatment and granted the employee's request for attorney's fees. The Supreme Court referred the employer's appeal to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-225(e)(3) (2008) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed and the cause is remanded for modification of the trial court's order.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

TWCA reviews an award of permanent partial disability


Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers' compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Ralph McNabb ("Employee") sustained a right rotator cuff tear as the result of a motor vehicle collision while employed as a truck driver by Everhart Transportation ("Employer").

Employer was insured for workers' compensation by Cherokee Insurance Company, Inc. ("Insurer"). Employee underwent surgical repair of his right rotator cuff and was returned by Employer to a different, part-time position. Employee suffered a recurrent rotator cuff tear and thereafter retired. It is undisputed that Employee was not returned to employment at the same or greater wage than prior to his injury. Employee's treating physician and his evaluating physician both assigned him an anatomical impairment rating of 10% to the body as a whole, but with different restrictions. The trial court awarded 60% permanent partial disability ("PPD") to the body as a whole. Insurer has appealed, asserting that the award was excessive. We affirm the judgment.

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TN Supreme Court reviews conflicting impairment ratings in a workers' compensation case.


In June of 2008, William Mansell (the "Employee") suffered a compensable injury to his right shoulder while working for Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC (the "Employer"). Dr. Sean Kaminsky, an orthopaedic surgeon, served as the authorized treating physician and assigned an impairment rating of 3% to the body as a whole. The Employee obtained an Independent Medical Evaluation from another orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Robert Landsberg, who assigned a 10% impairment rating. When the Benefit Review Conference at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development ("DOL") ended in an impasse, the Employee filed suit.

The judgment of the trial court is vacated. This cause is remanded to the trial court for a hearing and determination within ninety (90) days of the date of this order of the Employee’s motion to quash the Employer’s request for a designation of a physician from the MIR registry.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

TN Supreme Court reviews an uninsured motorist policy with limits lower than the statutory amount

RANDALL D. KISER v. IAN J. WOLFE ET AL. (Tenn. August 24, 2011)

The plaintiff, an employee of the insured, was injured while driving the insured's tow truck. He filed suit against the defendant and later sought to invoke the insured's uninsured motorist policy in an amount equal to the liability coverage for bodily injury. The insurer filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking to limit uninsured motorist coverage to the amount listed on the first page of the policy rather than the amount otherwise fixed by statute. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that the insured was entitled to a partial summary judgment. When the insured signs an application indicating the selection of uninsured motorist coverage lower than the liability limits, but neglects to initial a provision designed to confirm the selection of coverage less than the standard provided by statute, the "in writing" requirement under Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1201(a)(2) (2008) has been satisfied. The cause is remanded to the trial court for the entry of partial summary judgment and such other proceedings, as may be necessary.

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LEE concurring in part and dissenting in part:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Court reviews whether an attorney's failure to substitute a party for the deceased plaintiff in an automobile accident case was excusable neglect

THOMAS PAUL SCOTT v. JAMES KEVIN ROBERSON (Tenn. Ct. App. August 25, 2011)

Plaintiff injured in automobile accident died while his negligence action was pending. Plaintiff's counsel filed a suggestion of death but neglected to move to substitute a party for the deceased plaintiff within 90 days, as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 25.01(1). Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which led plaintiff's estate to file a motion to enlarge time within which to move to substitute pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 6.02.

The trial court determined that plaintiff's counsel's neglect in moving to substitute within 90 days was not excusable and granted defendants' motions, dismissing the action. On appeal we affirm the trial court's judgment because we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling the neglect was not excusable.

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Tennessee Supreme Court Reviews Whether the Trial Court Properly Increased an Employee's Disability Benefits


The issue presented in this workers' compensation case is whether the employee made a meaningful return to work. Upon being released by her physician to return to work, she resigned her employment after her employer told her that she would have to return to a production line job that, based on her work experience and personal knowledge of the work conditions and her physical abilities and limitations, she did not believe she could perform.

The trial court awarded her additional benefits, ruling that she did not have a meaningful return to work and was eligible for reconsideration of her earlier settlement for workers' compensation benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241 (Supp. 2010). The Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel reversed.

We hold that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work following her injuries and that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court's award of increased permanent partial disability benefits. The judgment of the Appeals Panel is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Court reviews whether an agency relationship existed between a mother and her son for the purpose of enforcing an arbitration agreement

DENNIS W. BLACKMON, ET AL. v. LP PIGEON FORGE, LLC, ET AL. (Tenn. Ct. App. August 25, 2011)

This is a nursing home negligence case involving an arbitration agreement. The son of the decedent signed documents admitting his mother to the defendant nursing home. The admission documents included an arbitration agreement. After his mother's death, the son filed a lawsuit on behalf of her estate against the defendant nursing home and others connected to its administration. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement signed by the son. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the son was not the decedent's agent and did not have authority to sign on her behalf. The defendants appeal. We affirm.

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Court reviews whether the statute of limitations bars a plaintiff's claim for assault against security guards


Plaintiff filed a complaint in 2010 against the owner of a bus line alleging security guards assaulted him while he was waiting for a bus in 2003. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the statute of limitations barred the plaintiff's action. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and the plaintiff appealed. We affirm the trial court's judgment because Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-3-104(a)(1) requires a plaintiff suing for personal injuries to file his complaint within one year of the date of the alleged assault resulting in injuries.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Court reviews whether a claim against an assisted living facility was a negligence or a medical malpractice claim.


The daughter of an eighty-seven year old woman was looking for an assisted living facility for her mother, who was suffering from dementia. Elmcroft of Hendersonville assured the daughter that it could care for her mother and admitted her after the daughter informed it of her concern about her mother's risk for falls. Three weeks following her admission the mother fell, and then fell three more times before the daughter moved her out of Elmcroft. The final fall resulted in a broken clavicle, which caused the mother pain and decreased mobility for the rest of her life.

The daughter, as her mother's representative, sued Elmcroft and its administrator for negligence and negligent admission and retention of her mother. A jury awarded a judgment against the defendants for $250,000. There was evidence the Elmcroft staff did not follow Elmcroft's fall prevention policies and procedures.

Elmcroft argued that all claims filed against it involved matters of medical science or art requiring specialized skills not ordinarily possessed by lay persons, and, therefore, this was a medical malpractice which should have been dismissed since the statutory requirements for such a claim had not been met.

We conclude, based on the evidence herein, that the claims were ordinary negligence claims. Elmcroft also argued (1) the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the negligence of the daughter and a physician from another state who indicated the mother may be cared for by an assisted living facility and (2) that the jury award was excessive, contained a punitive component, and was the result of passion, prejudice and caprice.

We conclude the court did not err in refusing to charge the jury on the physician's comparative fault or the daughter's comparative negligence. We also conclude there was material evidence to support the jury's award of damages. Consequently, we affirm.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Court reviews the denial of a firefighter's on-the-job injury benefits for his hypertension and heart disease

PAUL PITTMAN v. CITY OF MEMPHIS (Tenn. Ct. App. August 18, 2011)

Petitioner firefighter appeals denial of on-the-job injury benefits by the City of Memphis. We affirm.

This dispute involves the application of the presumption contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 7-51-201 that hypertension and injury to the heart and/or lungs sustained by a police officer or firefighter is job-related.

Before joining the Memphis Fire Department in February 1995, Mr. Pittman underwent a preemployment physical examination that did not reveal signs of hypertension or heart disease. In 1996, he was diagnosed with hypertension and in April 1996 the City admitted Mr. Pittman into the Heart, Hypertension, Lung Program, which entitled him to benefits under the City’s On-the-Job-Injury (“OJI”) policy. He has been receiving OJI benefits for hypertension since April 25, 1996.

In July 2005, Mr. Pittman was hospitalized for chest pain afterfeeling fatigued at work. On July 15, 2005, he underwent a coronary angiography which revealed a 90 percent blockage of Mr. Pittman’s left anterior artery. Mr. Pittman was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and underwent surgery.

On July 22, 2005, Mr. Pittman filed an OJI report seeking admission into the HHL Program for heart disease. Pursuant to City policy, Mr. Pittman’s medical records were reviewed by three physicians. One of the physicians, Jesse. T. Davis, Jr., M.D. (Dr. Davis), stated that he found no causal connection between Mr. Pittman’s occupation as a firefighter and his coronary artery disease. Based on Dr. Davis’ statement, the City denied Mr. Pittman’s claim. Mr. Pittman appealed denial of his claim.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Court reviews whether employee's claim was barred by the statute of limitations of the GTLA


The trial court granted the defendant, Shelby County Government, judgment on the pleadings as to multiple causes of action brought by a former county employee. The trial court found, inter alia, the one-year statute of limitations of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("GTLA") barred the plaintiff's claim. Applying well-settled law, the court concluded the general saving statute does not apply to a claim non-suited and re-filed against a governmental entity under the GTLA.

Although the trial court failed to address whether a different conclusion might apply to causes of action arising under the Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA"), we hold the saving statute does not "save" a claim non-suited and refiled against a State entity under the THRA. The trial court therefore properly concluded the plaintiff's suit was time-barred. Because the trial court reviewed matters outside of the pleadings when deciding the defendant's motion, we grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Court reviews a driver's post-judgment motions in an automobile accident case


On or about May 28, 2005, Billie Seay was involved in an automobile accident with a vehicle driven by the defendant Thomas E. Walsh ("the Driver"), which vehicle was owned by the defendant Betty Walsh ("the Owner"). Seay's insurance company, Nationwide Insurance Company, settled her claim and filed this subrogation action in Seay's name for the use and benefit of Nationwide against the Driver and the Owner. The Driver and the Owner filed separate pro se answers. The Owner appeared at trial, but the Driver did not appear. The trial court entered a judgment against both defendants. Two and a half years later, the Driver filed a motion to set aside the judgment. It was denied. He then filed a series of similar unsuccessful post-judgment motions. The Driver appeals from the last order denying post-judgment relief. We affirm.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

TN Supreme Court clarifies the standards that apply to the locality rule for expert medical witnesses


In medical malpractice actions, Tennessee adheres to a locality rule for expert medical witnesses. Claimants are required by statute to prove by expert testimony the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice in the community where the defendant medical provider practices or a similar community. Tenn. Code Ann. S 29-26-115 (2000 & Supp. 2010).

Since the locality rule was enacted in 1975, Tennessee courts have reached different conclusions in interpreting it. The rule does not define "similar community," nor does it provide guidance as to how a community is determined to be "similar" to the defendant's community.

In this case, we address and clarify the applicable standards that courts should use in determining whether a medical expert is qualified to testify as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case. Applying these standards, we hold that the trial court's exclusion of the claimant's two proffered medical experts under the locality rule was error. The trial court's grant of summary judgment is affirmed in part and vacated in part.

Opinion available at:

KOCH concurring in part and dissenting in part

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TWCA reviews the trial court's adoption of an evaluating physician's impairment rating as the basis for an award of permanent disability benefits


In this workers' compensation case, the employee had a compensable back injury in 2008. His doctor assigned 19% permanent anatomical impairment for the injury, based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.

He had previously settled a claim for a compensable back injury in 1996. That injury resulted in a 15% permanent impairment according to the Fourth Edition of the Guides, then in effect.

Based upon those ratings, the treating physician for the 2008 injury apportioned 4% of the total 19% impairment to the more recent injury. An evaluating physician used the Sixth Edition to rate both injuries and opined that the impairment for the 2008 injury was 13% to the body as a whole.

The trial court adopted the evaluating physician's rating and based its award of permanent disability benefits on it. The employer has appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by adopting the evaluating physician's rating. We affirm the judgment.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Court reviews a claim against an employer for retaliatory discharge


Defendant allegedly suffered an on-the-job injury to his knees over the course of several years, and Plaintiffs paid workers' compensation benefits on his behalf. However, after Defendant was videotaped building a barn, his employment was terminated and suit was filed against him for fraud. Defendant then filed a counter-complaint alleging, among other things, retaliatory discharge. The trial court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment with regard to the retaliatory discharge claim, and we affirm and remand.

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