Lawsuit Against Nursing Home May Proceed on an Ordinary Negligence Claim After Court Dismisses Medical Malpractice and ADA Claims

Knoxville-R.jpgA woman may replead her lawsuit against a Tennessee nursing home for the death of her mother as an ordinary negligence claim, according to a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Southwell v. Summit View of Farragut. She filed suit claiming medical malpractice and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the defendant obtained a dismissal of both claims. The appellate court remanded the case to allow the plaintiff to plead ordinary negligence.

The plaintiff’s mother, Claudia Atkins, who had hearing and sight impairments, was receiving treatment at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for cancer and emphysema. She was transferred to Summit View of Farragut, a nursing home in Knoxville, on December 11, 2009. She died on October 6, 2010. The plaintiff sued Summit View on November 23, 2010 in state court, asserting causes of action for “negligence-medical malpractice” and wrongful death.

Summit View removed the case to federal court in December 2010 based on diversity jurisdiction, as the plaintiff was a Florida resident, and her mother remained a legal Florida resident despite her stay in a Tennessee nursing home. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

The district court ruled that the plaintiff did not comply with two requirements of the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (TMMA). First, the court found that the plaintiff’s pre-suit notice of claim to the defendant did not state her mother’s date of birth, and it failed to include an affidavit of service. The second defect identified by the district court was the lack of a certificate from an expert witness that identified the standard of care applicable to the nursing home and supported the plaintiff’s “good faith belief” that the nursing home breached that standard. The TMMA typically requires dismissal of any lawsuit that does not include these documents.

Regarding the plaintiff’s ADA claims, the district court construed her complaint referencing Title III of the ADA as a request for relief. The court noted that Title III does not allow monetary damages, only injunctive relief. It therefore dismissed that claim as well.

According to the appellate court, the plaintiff did not challenge the district court’s ruling as to the two causes of action. Instead, she argued that the district court failed to consider her causes of action for ordinary negligence and wrongful death. The appellate court considered her claims that the nursing home failed to properly care for her mother, failed to provide proper care for her chronic illnesses, and failed to notify the nursing home’s supervising doctor when her condition progressed and worsened. The court ruled that the plaintiff would have to plead allegations that non-medical staff at the nursing home failed to meet these duties, but that she did not do so in her complaint. It also ruled, however, that it could not dismiss the claim simply because of a poorly-drafted complaint. After affirming the district court’s dismissal of the medical malpractice and ADA claims, it remanded the case to the district court to allow the plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in Maryland obtain compensation for injuries caused by nursing home abuse or neglect. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court Reinstates Class Action Lawsuit Against Nursing Home Operator Alleging Rights Violations, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, August 29, 2012
Medical Study of Hip Injuries Placed Over 1,300 Nursing Home Residents at Risk, Government Says, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, August 7, 2012
Choking Deaths in Nursing Homes Lead to Calls for More Staff Training, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, June 27, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Knoxville-R’ by Zereshk (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

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