State Supreme Court Rules Defendant Waived Defense By Not Timely Raising Issue

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 4-1 on Friday that a defendant in a health care liability action must act in a timely manner to assert that the claim is prohibited because it was filed too late by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff Eddie C. Pratcher Jr. filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in December 2000, asserting that various healthcare providers in Memphis were negligent in the treatment of his pregnant wife, Sandra Y. Jones-Pratcher, who died in the hospital in January 2000. He sued Consultants In Anesthesia, Inc. (Consultants) for the negligence of one of its nurses.

Mr. Pratcher added a negligence claim against Consultants’ president, Dr. Dinesh Chauhan, in an amended complaint after the three-year statute of repose ran. A statute of repose is a legal deadline that runs from the time of the initial event that caused the harm.

Consultants answered the complaint, but did not assert the affirmative defense of the statute of repose. An affirmative defense essentially means the defendant agrees with the complaint, but denies liability based on other reasons, in this case, that a legal deadline had passed.

A jury in the 2006 trial ruled that the defendants, including Consultants, were not liable. However, Mr. Pratcher filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial judge granted in part because of a problem with the jury instructions.

Consultants filed a motion to dismiss in 2009, claiming that the statute of repose prevented Mr. Pratcher from suing Consultants based on any alleged fault of Dr. Chauhan. Consultants also filed a motion to amend its answer to assert the statute of repose as an affirmative defense. A trial judge denied both motions.

The Tennessee Supreme Court determined the statute of repose is an affirmative defense under the plain language of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 8.03. The Court also determined that Consultants waived the affirmative defense by failing to raise it until years after the trial.

“Today we clarify that the statute of repose is an affirmative defense that is generally waived if not timely raised,” wrote Justice Sharon G. Lee for the majority. “A defendant must assert an affirmative defense in a timely manner to secure the ‘just’ and ‘speedy’ resolution of litigation.”

Justice William C. Koch, Jr., disagreed with the majority. In his dissent, he wrote that “it is a very close call in light of the facts of the case.” Justice Koch continued that the granting of a new trial placed “both the plaintiff and the defendant back at square one,” and would permit the plaintiff ample opportunity to respond to the defense.

To read the majority opinion in Pratcher v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals authored by Justice Lee, and the dissent by Justice Koch, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


Tennessee American Water And Chambliss Center For Children Kick-Off Summer At Annual Pool Party

Tennessee American Water and Chambliss Center for Children kicked-off the summer season with a pool party for the children participating in the summer program. Tennessee American Water filled up the more than 35,000-gallon pool at no cost to Chambliss Center for Children. “Clean and reliable water is an essential life resource. We are committed to providing high quality water ... (click for more)

Hixson Dentist Awarded Tennessee Dental Association Fellowship

Dr. Michael R. Johnson, a Hixson dentist, received the prestigious Tennessee Dental Association (TDA) Fellowship Award during the recent Music City Dental Conference held in Nashville, the 149th annual meeting of the TDA. The Fellowship Award is presented to no more than twelve deserving Tennessee dentists each year who make noteworthy contributions of their time and talent toward ... (click for more)

Child Bitten By Dog In Bradley County

The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a child who was bitten by a dog. While saturating an area in Bradley County, a deputy observed a vehicle traveling on the roadway with a child not restrained and sitting in a passenger’s lap inside the vehicle. Once the deputy approached the vehicle, he noticed a child bleeding which was the result of a dog bite. ... (click for more)

Man Rescued From The Pocket Wilderness On Saturday

Rescue personnel started the Memorial Holiday weekend at the Pocket Wilderness hiking trails on Saturday morning. A man had been camping on the trails with friends Friday night when the accident occurred. They had been gathering branches for firewood when he tripped and fell on a branch which impaled his thigh. With no cell service and having no daylight, the group waited ... (click for more)

Fruit Basket Turnover

I have been teaching for 21 years now, so I’ve been through my share of school leaders. Every one of them taught me something important. Whether it was Don Bishop from Red Bank High School who, after almost 30 years at Red Bank, taught me to invest in the longevity of my career, Wade Kelly who taught me to thoroughly weigh options before making a decision, Gail Chuy who taught me ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Let Me Be Clear’

I have seen a lot of human beings who have gotten themselves in terrible messes in my time and more self-induced agony than I want to recall. Will Rogers famously said, “Give a man enough rope and he’ll hang himself.” That’s the truth and if you ever didn’t think that “Politics corrupts,” consider the genius behind the line, “It ain’t long those who get elected … begin to think ... (click for more)