Tennessee Medical Malpractice Laws
Each state has their own set of medical malpractice laws in place, and it is important for patients to understand those laws and how they could affect their case. The following are the basics of the laws in Tennessee.
Medical Malpractice in Tennessee
Patients expect a certain standard of care when undergoing medical treatment from a health care provider. Unfortunately, providers occasionally make mistakes and fail to provide the care that patients need and deserve. When providers injure patients, patients can file a medical malpractice claim. Patients can file claims against providers such as doctors, nurses, and dentists, as well as medical facilities, including a hospital or nursing home.
Types of Malpractice Cases Personal Injury Lawyers Handle
A medical malpractice lawyer handles an assortment of medical malpractice cases. These are the details on some of the most common claims injury lawyers handle.
Misdiagnosis From a Healthcare Professional
Patients trust doctors to diagnose them when they undergo evaluation or treatment properly. Unfortunately, some doctors fail to diagnose patients correctly. A misdiagnosis occurs when the doctor provides the wrong diagnosis or fails to detect the condition. A misdiagnosis can impede a patient’s quality of life or even lead to a person’s death.
Delay in Diagnosis
A fast diagnosis is necessary to improve treatment outcomes. When a medical provider fails to diagnose a condition in a timely fashion, the patient can file a suit due to the delay of diagnosis, as long as the delay caused an injury.
Medication errors are more common than many people realize. Physicians often prescribe incorrect medications or prescribe medications that cause dangerous interactions. The wrong medications can damage the body and lead to death.
Errors During Surgery That Cause Personal Injury
Surgical errors are a common reason for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Surgical errors include damaging organs or nerves during a procedure or performing the wrong procedure. For example, if a doctor operates on the wrong leg, that is a surgical error. Failing to use sterile equipment is another type of surgical error.
Anesthesiologists are tasked with reviewing patients’ medical histories and providing the correct dosage of anesthesia. Anesthesiologists also monitor the patient’s vitals during surgery. Failing to follow the standard of care can lead to debilitating issues that patients have to deal with for an entire lifetime. Death is also possible when anesthesia is not administered correctly.
Proper medical care is needed during pregnancy and birth. Proper care is also essential immediately after the baby is born. If a medical provider is negligent, the child and mother could experience a severe and life-threatening birth injury. Signs of medical malpractice include failing to perform a needed C-section or neglecting to monitor vital signs during birth. Parents can sue medical professionals on behalf of the child. Financial compensation is often needed to pay for a lifetime of medical care.
Statute of Limitations for Filing Tennessee Medical Malpractice Claims
The statute of limitations in Tennessee is technically one year and 120 days. It is broken up into two parts.
Injured parties must send providers a written notice of the claim one year from the date of the incident, when the injury was discovered, or when it should have been discovered. The notice must be sent 60 days before filing a lawsuit. Upon filing the written notice, the patient’s deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is extended by 120 days. That makes the statute a full year and 120 days.
Along with a statute of limitations, Tennessee has a statute of repose. This statute institutes a time limit for filing a medical malpractice claim, regardless of when the patient realized he or she was injured. This statute has a limit of three years. If a patient discovers an injury after the three-year limit, it is typically too late to file a claim.
However, there are exceptions to consider. For example, if a provider leaves an instrument inside a patient, and it is not discovered for years, the patient might still have a medical malpractice claim. Other conditions apply as well, so injured parties are encouraged to consult with a medical malpractice attorney, even if the time limit imposed by the statute of repose has passed. Patients may still have a claim.
The Burden of Proof for Tennessee Medical Malpractice
The burden of proof rests on the shoulders of the patient when filing a medical malpractice case. Four factors are involved in proving the case.
First, the injured party must prove that he or she had a doctor-patient relationship. This relationship means that the doctor has agreed to provide treatment for the patient. A doctor-patient relationship does not exist if the injured party simply receives medical advice from a friend or acquaintance without entering into a relationship.
Second, the patient must prove a breach of duty. Doctors have a duty of care that they are required to uphold when treating patients. The duty of care consists of medical standards that are adopted by the medical community. To prove a breach of duty, the patient must show that the provider did not provide the same level of care as other professionals with the same degree of training and level of experience.
Third, the injured patient must prove causation. That means the patient must prove that the provider caused the injuries. For example, assume a patient goes to the doctor with low blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms. The doctor sends the patient home without a diagnosis, and then the patient dies due to cardiac tamponade. A loved one could file a suit on the patient’s behalf after proving causation that failing to diagnose the cardiac tamponade caused the death.
Fourth, the litigant must prove damages. Medical malpractice suits are used to make patients whole again, so the patient must have lost something to file suit. Tennessee law allows three types of damages. Patients can receive compensatory damages if they have lost money due to medical bills and missing work. Non-economic damages can be recovered if the patient can prove pain and suffering or other intangible losses. Punitive damages can also be recovered in cases of fraud or malicious intent.
Modified Comparative Fault – When the Patient Is Also at Fault
Some people refuse to file medical malpractice suits because they are partially to blame for their injuries. Assume a health care provider prescribes a patient a medication that he is allergic to, and the patient takes it. The doctor should not have prescribed that medication, but the patient can still be partially liable if he or she fails to follow the instructions. The medication’s instructions clearly state that alcohol should not be consumed, but the patient still drinks, making the reaction even worse. In this instance, both the doctor and the patient are at fault, but the patient can still recover damages.
The court will assign a percentage of fault to each party. Regarding the medication, the patient might be 40 percent responsible for the reaction, while the doctor is 60 percent responsible. The court assesses the damages, and the amount is reduced based on fault. In this example, the amount would be reduced by 40 percent.
Caps for Medical Malpractice Damages
The state of Tennessee does not have a cap for economic damages that patients can recover due to medical negligence. For example, patients can collect the full amount for medical bills and lost wages. That includes future lost wages if the person is unable to work due to the injuries.
However, the state does cap non-economic damages such as the loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering. This cap is typically set at $750,000. However, the court does make an exception for those who have suffered catastrophic injuries. They can receive up to $1 million. Catastrophic injuries include spinal cord injuries, amputations of at least two appendages, and the wrongful death of a parent who has minor children. Also, people might be able to recover $1 million due to the death of a child or after experiencing third-degree burns on at least 40 percent of the body.
Expert Witnesses and Medical Malpractice
The state of Tennessee has an affidavit of merit requirement. Claimants must consult with an expert in the field. The expert needs to go over the case and provide a statement that the case has merit. This statement is used to prevent fraudulent lawsuits. Claimants must then file paperwork with the court that states they have consulted with an expert and the case has merit. This statement must be submitted within 90 days of filing the lawsuit.
An expert witness is also needed during the trial. The witness must work in a field that is relevant to the case. For example, if a spinal surgeon caused the injury, the expert should be a spinal surgeon. The expert witness must have worked in that field for at least one year before the incident. Also, the expert has to be licensed in Tennessee or a bordering state and must understand the standard of care expected in the location that the injury occurred.
Settling a Case
Insurance companies are often willing to settle medical malpractice cases to avoid trial. Patients often prefer this as well, so they can receive the compensation they need quickly. Going to trial and making it through the appeals process can take years, so this is a way for people to get back on their feet soon.
Parties can settle without arbitration or mediation. However, malpractice attorneys often find that arbitration or mediation helps injured parties achieve the desired outcome.
Those who wish to go through mediation will work to reach a settlement with the help of a mediator. It is wise to bring an attorney for representation during this process.
Arbitration is another option. Unlike in mediation, where both parties work out the specifics, the arbitrator makes the decision when this method is used. An arbitrator takes the place of the jury and the judge. He or she assigns fault and chooses the amount of damages. Proper representation during arbitration helps claimants receive the damages they deserve.
Litigating a Case
If a settlement is not reached, the claimant can take the case to trial. There are various stages involved in litigating a case. The process begins by filing the proper paperwork.
Filing the Paperwork
Before taking a case to trial, the attorney must file a complaint with the clerk of court. The defendant has 30 days to respond to the claim. Then, the attorney and claimant prepare for trial.
Preparing for Trial
The discovery process is the first step in preparing for trial. During this process, the claimant’s attorney will depose witnesses. The claimant will also go through a deposition. Representation is critical during a deposition. Attorneys can object to questions and provide legal advice during answers.
Attorneys often use written interrogatories during the discovery stage as well. Lawyers prepare questions and send them to claimants and defendants. This allows attorneys to establish the facts of the case. These facts are then presented at trial.
Attorneys must also gather documents when preparing for trial. Attorneys make a production of documents request to get medical records and other documents.
A request for admissions is also important when preparing for a trial. Attorneys use this request to find out what to expect during trial. The attorney creates a list of statements for the other side to answer with a yes or no. The answers to these questions give insight into the defendant’s legal strategy.
A medical evaluation will also likely be required before the case goes to trial. The defense team often requests the evaluation.
Going to Trial
After preparing for trial, the lawyers will finally be ready to present the case. The case may be presented in front of a jury or a judge. If a jury trial is selected, the case will be tried in front of 12 people. A unanimous verdict is required to close the case.
The attorneys get to ask the jury pool questions to determine whom they would like to serve on the panel. Attorneys can strike potential jurors. After the jury is selected, the trial will begin.
Opening statements are set at the beginning of the trial. Each attorney has a chance to provide information about the case during opening statements. Then, the plaintiff’s attorney will argue the case. The attorney will call expert witnesses to the stand to back out the evidence that was collected during the discovery stage. The defendant’s attorney has the right to cross-examine each witness that takes the stand.
After the plaintiff presents the case, the defense attorney will do the same. The defense will try to prove that the provider was not negligent and did not injure the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s attorney can also cross-examine each of the witnesses. The plaintiff’s attorney will attempt to discredit the opinions provided by these witnesses.
When the defense rests its case, both attorneys will present closing arguments. They will go over the facts of the case once again. These arguments are used to provide a better understanding of the facts of the case.
The judge or jury will then deliberate and reach a verdict. The verdict will then be announced.
Appealing a Decision
The losing party cannot appeal a case simply because he or she is unhappy with the verdict. However, if there was an error or if the law was broken during the case, it can be appealed. If there are grounds to appeal, the attorney must submit a Notice of Appeal 30 days after the end of the trial. If the appeal is granted, a higher court will review the evidence.
Importance of Choosing a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Experienced medical malpractice attorneys help litigants receive the damages they deserve. Whether the plaintiff chooses to reach a settlement or go to court, the damages awarded are often much greater when an experienced attorney represents the plaintiff..
Attorneys have access to medical experts who can support the claim. They also have investigators to gather evidence. Also, attorneys protect their clients during the discovery stage, settlement process, and trial.
It is critical to contact a law firm before moving forward with the case. The right firm can help litigants get the damages they deserve. People can schedule a free consultation to find out if they have a case.