News

Legislation Would End All Medical Malpractice Suits

The Georgia-based nonprofit advocacy group Patients for Fair Compensation again this year plans to seek legislation that would ban all malpractice suits in the state, the Nashville Post reports. The group’s proposal will be introduced by Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Glen Casada, both Republicans from Franklin. The proposed plan would create a patients’ compensation system funded by annual fees charged to doctors. Instead of filing a lawsuit, an aggrieved patient would apply for compensation to an administrative law judge who would assess the claim. The bill, which surfaced last year for the first time, is opposed by a number of legislators and the Tennessee Medical Association.

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Jury: TennCare Provider Violated Dental Company’s Rights

A Nashville jury has unanimously found that DentaQuest, the insurance company administering TennCare’s dental program, violated the First Amendment rights of Snodgrass-King Pediatric Dental Associates when it excluded the company from the state Medicaid network. Lawyers for Snodgrass-King argued that the company was discriminated against based on a speech delivered by one of its dentists, who had been critical of DentaQuest’s administration of the program. The jury awarded Snodgrass-King $7.4 million in compensatory damages and $14.8 million in punitive damages. DentaQuest said it would seek further legal review of the jury’s decision. The Nashville Post has more on the case.

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Mental Health Court Holds 1st Graduation

The Hamilton County General Sessions Mental Health Court held its first graduation ceremony earlier this month, Chattanoogan.com reports. General Sessions Judge Lila Statom presided over the graduation of the first two participants in the program, which began in 2015. A short celebration followed the ceremony and the Mental Health Court team, led by assistant public defender Anna Protano-Biggs, was on hand to answer questions about the program. 

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Opinion: Time to Shed Light on Elder Abuse

It is time to address issues of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation that have largely gone unnoticed and unaddressed, writes Matthew H. Schwimmer in the Jackson Sun. A 2016 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law and an Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Elder Justice Fellow with West Tennessee Legal Services, Schwimmer calls on Tennesseans to educate themselves, get involved in older Americans’ lives and, if they become aware of abuse, contact their local legal services organization.

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Hawkins Judge Honors Veterans Mentor

Hawkins County’s first nationally certified “Justice for Vets” mentor, Ron W. Light, was honored by General Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross during a ceremony Wednesday, the Times News reports. Light, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, has a long history of assisting veterans with service-related issues. Most recently he helped implement a Veterans Mentor Program in Hawkins County Sessions Court, and as a volunteer with the program he will help veterans get needed treatment and benefits and coordinate with other judicial entities such as the Community Justice Program and probation services on their behalf.

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Prison Medical Provider Faces 2 More Suits

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that prison health care provider Centurion failed to provide proper care to a man who fell ill after eating undercooked chicken at a state prison in Hickman County. Though he was experiencing severe symptoms, the suit claims he was not taken to the hospital for two days and later died there. A separate suit has been brought by the family of a man who died after falling ill in a West Tennessee prison. These two suits come just weeks after a female prisoner filed suit against the company after she gave birth in a medical wing cell without a doctor present. That suit alleges nurses accused her of faking labor and that the unsanitary conditions led to a serious infection for her newborn son. The Tennessean looks at the cases.

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Veterans Treatment Court Hosts Fall Festival

Veterans and their families celebrated the fall season with the Montgomery County Veterans Treatment Court at the end of October. The event was designed to forge positive relationships between program participants and their families, alumni of the program, mentors and court staff. “We get to know our participants that we see regularly, sadly we don’t build the same connection with their families,” Judge Kenneth Goble told the Leaf Chronicle. The group’s next event will be a graduation ceremony Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. at the county courthouse.

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Judge Blocks Nursing Home Arbitration Rule

A federal district court judge yesterday blocked implementation of a new rule prohibiting federal funds from going to nursing homes that require residents to sign binding arbitration agreements. Judge Michael P. Mills found that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which issued the rule in September, did not have authority to enact the mandate without statutory authority. The challenge to the rule was brought by various nursing home groups, including the American Health Care Association. The ABA Journal has more on the story and the opinion.

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Mental Health Court Forum Set for Thursday

A public forum is scheduled for Thursday to continue planning for the 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court, which was announced earlier this fall. The court will serve Bradley, Polk, Monroe and McMinn counties. The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Bradley County Courthouse. Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg said the court’s mission is “to recognize the existence of mental illness and provide sentencing alternatives to those individuals in the criminal justice system who may be rehabilitated through appropriate mental health treatment.” He posted a reminder of the event on Facebook. The court is scheduled to open in January.

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Workers’ Compensation Court Holding Listening Sessions

The Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims will hold a series of listening sessions across the state for members of the bar and public to weigh in on the new court system and to suggest areas for improvement. Chief Judge Kenneth M. Switzer and Brian Holmes, director of Mediation and Ombudsmen Services of Tennessee, will host sessions in Murfreesboro on Nov. 15, Jackson on Nov. 29, Memphis on Nov. 30, Nashville on Dec. 1, Chattanooga on Dec. 7, Cookeville on Dec. 9, Kingsport on Dec. 13 and Knoxville on Dec. 14. Those unable to attend in person may submit written comments. The March issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal looked at the new court.

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Baker Donelson, Ober|Kaler to Combine

The law firms of Baker Donelson and Ober|Kaler have announced plans to join forces effective Jan. 1. Ober|Kaler is a national law firm with health, litigation, business, construction and finance practice areas. The firm has more than 110 attorneys with headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and offices in Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, Virginia. The combined firm will maintain the name of Baker Donelson. It will be one of the 50 largest law firms in the country and the third largest health practice in the country.

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Tennessee Hosting 4 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Tennessee is benefiting from the services of four Equal Justice Works fellows. It is the first time in more than 10 years that the state has had any fellows, according to the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS). That group is hosting Kirsten Jacobson in its office. Elder Justice Fellow Matt Schwimmer is serving with West Tennessee Legal Services in Jackson. Elder Justice Fellow Sara Dodson is serving with the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville. And Immigrant Defense Fellow Valeria Gomez is working with Justice AmeriCorps and VIDA in Knoxville. TALS credits the work of the state Supreme Court, which has made pro bono a strategic priority, and the support of the state’s legal aid providers in making these fellowships a reality.

Photo from left: Jacobson, Gomez, Schwimmer, Dodson

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Volunteers Needed for Veterans’ Clinic

Volunteers are needed for a Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic scheduled for Nov. 2 from noon to 2 p.m. in Knoxville. The clinic is one of several planned by a group of legal organizations in the city, including the Knoxville Bar Association, the Knoxville Barristers, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local Veterans's Affairs office. It will take place at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St.

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Training Offered to Help Lawyers Help Veterans

The University of Tennessee College of Law will hold a two-hour training session on Nov. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. EST for those interested in learning more about volunteering at a Project Salute event or assisting veterans with legal issues in any setting. A “meet and greet” will follow the program. Register online.

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Disability Rights Group Presents Freedom Awards

Disability Rights Tennessee awarded its 2016 Freedom Awards at the Third Annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon last week in Nashville. Joey Hassell, an assistant commissioner for special populations in the Tennessee Department of Education, was recognized for implementing a holistic approach to aligning services for all students. Martie Lafferty was honored for 13 years of service with DRT, including her work as the organization's legal director. During her time with the organization, Lafferty won cases that granted access to Tennessee courts and Medicaid waiver services for thousands and ensured equal access to health care for Tennesseans who are deaf and hard of hearing. Lafferty is now a litigator at the Washington, D.C., civil rights firm Stein & Vargas.

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Life Care Centers to Pay $145M in False Claims Case

Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America Inc. and its owner, Forrest L. Preston, have agreed to pay $145 million to resolve a government lawsuit alleging that the company violated the False Claims Act by knowingly causing skilled nursing facilities to submit false claims for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and/or skilled, the Department of Justice announced today. The news follows an announcement by the department earlier this month that a settlement had been reached in the case. It is now one of the largest settlements with a skilled nursing facility chain in the department’s history, and the largest civil False Claims Act settlement in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Chattanoogan.com has the latest.

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New TBA Health Law Chair Takes Reins of Group

At the TBA’s 28th Annual Health Law Forum, taking place this weekend in Franklin, outgoing Health Law Section chair and Waller attorney Denise Burke passed the reins of the group and the ceremonial “Section Cup” to Brian Roark, a lawyer in the Nashville office of Bass Berry & Sims. Roark heads the Healthcare Fraud Task Force at the firm and helps clients with governmental investigations and litigation. He also serves as an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt University where he teaches a course on health care fraud and abuse.

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Elder Law Programs Now Online

If you missed the TBA's annual Elder Law forum, the courses are now available online. Sessions focused on ABLE TN (a program that helps disabled individuals save for their health care), federal issues related to elder law, emergency conservatorships and a panel addressing TennCare. Watch one or all four!

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Free TennCare Training Offered Oct. 24-25

Lawyers interested in learning more about handling TennCare cases are invited to attend a web-based training session hosted by the Tennessee Justice Center. Topics include how the Affordable Care Act affects Tennesseans, navigating the TennCare process and using work-arounds to address complex issues. On Monday, Oct. 24, the webinar will run from 1 to 5 p.m. On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the webinar will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please register for each day if you plan to attend both. Review the program agenda.

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Widely Regarded Health Law Program Kicks off Next Week

One of the nation's largest health law programs kicks off next week in Franklin with more than 400 attorneys expected. The Health Law Primer, intended as an introductory program, will provide a general health law overview and discussion of hot topics by experienced healthcare leaders on Wednesday. The 28th Annual Health Law Forum follows on Thursday and Friday. Speakers will cover a wide range of topics including fraud and abuse, practitioner assistance programs, ethics, medical staffing issues and 2016 Tennessee health law and legislative updates. All events will take place at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

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Services Thursday for Lawyer, Artist Kaaren Engel

A celebration of the life of Kaaren Hirschowitz Engel, who died last week, will be Thursday at East Park, 700 Woodland St., Nashville, from 2 to 4 p.m. She was 55. A graduate of Emory University Law School, Engel practiced corporate health law before focusing her career on creative ventures. She was an artist and author, who practiced and taught yoga and meditation. Learn more about her in this recent profile from Nashville Arts Magazine.

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Government Reaches Settlement in Suits Against Life Care, Preston

The Chattanoogan reports that the federal government has reached a settlement in the False Claims Act case against Cleveland Tenn.-based Life Care Centers, as well as in a separate suit against company chairman Forrest Preston. Claims in the case, in which the private nursing home company was accused of overbilling the government, amount to $1.8 billion. The separate suit against Preston alleges that he “unjustly enriched” himself through unfounded claims for government reimbursement. Life Care owns facilites in 28 states, including 20 locations in Tennessee.
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HHS Prohibits Forced Arbitration by Nursing Homes

The federal Department of Health and Human Services today issued a new rule that will prohibit long-term care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid from forcing residents into arbitration. Nursing homes and patients can still enter into arbitration if they choose, but contracts may not be written to automatically compel both parties into arbitration. The rule is part of a major revamp of consumer protections at long-term care facilities, Consumerist reports. The rule will go into effect Nov. 28 and have no effect on the “enforceability of existing pre-dispute arbitration agreements” according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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State’s Mental Health Chief to Retire

Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Doug Varney will retire Oct. 21, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. Varney has served as commissioner since 2011. Also today, Haslam announced the appointments of 176 Tennesseans to 75 boards and commissions.

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Mental Health Court to Hit Milestone

The Washington County Mental Health Court will soon mark 10 years of service and 57 graduates, WCYB reports. General Sessions Judge James Nidiffer, who oversees the court, said, “We’ve had some success, great success I think, in helping these individuals not be criminalized just because of their mental illness …” He noted that the court has saved dozens of people from going to jail, and that he still fields calls from other judges in the state interested in starting their own mental health court.

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