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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Jun 15, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

T. Martin Browder, Jr. and R. Wayne Culbertson, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellants, Carrie Coggins and Joel R. Coggins.

Attorneys 2:

Andrew T. Wampler and Russell W. Adkins, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellee, Wellmont Health System dba Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center.

Judge(s): SUSANO

On August 6, 2011, Carrie Coggins and her husband Joel R. Coggins (Plaintiffs) visited a patient at Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center (Hospital). While there, Mrs. Coggins tripped and fell, sustaining serious injuries. Plaintiffs filed suit and alleged that Mrs. Coggins tripped over a feeding tube that, according to Plaintiffs, had been negligently left near her friend’s bed in such a way as to create a dangerous condition. Before they filed suit, Plaintiffs served Hospital with pre-suit notice of their intent to file. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 (2012). Hospital filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The trial court granted Hospital summary judgment. The court held that (1) Plaintiffs’ action was an ordinary negligence action based on premises liability, not a health care liability action; and (2) Plaintiffs could not rely upon (a) Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c), which extends the applicable statutes of limitations and repose for 120 days when pre-suit notice is properly given, or (b) Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(e), which provides that “[i]n the event that a complaint is filed in good faith reliance on the extension of the statute of limitations or repose granted by this section and it is later determined that the claim is not a health care liability claim, the extension of the statute of limitations and repose granted by this section is still available to the plaintiff.” We agree with the trial court’s holding that Plaintiffs’ claim sounds in ordinary negligence under a premises liability theory. However, because amendments to the malpractice statute made the application of the “ordinary negligence/medical malpractice” dichotomy potentially confusing and unclear at the time, and because both sides of this litigation tried this case on the mistaken, albeit understandable, belief that the definition of a “health care liability action” found in the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 applies to this case, a position that the trial court picked up on and followed, we hold that Plaintiffs filed their complaint in good faith reliance on the extension of the applicable statute of limitations and are therefore entitled to 121(c)’s 120-day extension.Therefore, Plaintiffs’ complaint was timely filed. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.