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Posted by: Chandra Williams on Nov 2, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Robert R. Kurtz and Jonathan S. Taylor, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Donald Nichols.

Attorneys 2:

David S. Wigler, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Knox County, Tennessee.

Judge(s): SUSANO

On August 13, 2010, following a violation of his probation, Donald Nichols began serving a sentence at the Knox County Detention Facility (KCDF). He was assigned to a second floor cell. The only bed available there was a top bunk. On August 20, 2010, Nichols was subjected to a physical examination by KCDF’s medical staff. The staff detailed his medical history as pain in his lower back and extremities, as well as surgeries on his knee, foot, and ankle. On August 27, 2010, while he was asleep, Nichols rolled off his bed and hit the floor. As a result, his head was bloody, and he had intense pain in his neck and back. The on-duty nurse examined him and gave him ibuprofen for pain. In the weeks that followed, Nichols continued to have ongoing pain. He made multiple requests for medical assistance. He had an x-ray on November 5, 2010. That x-ray and a subsequent CT Scan and MRI revealed that he had several cervical fractures as a result of his fall. Through the efforts of his criminal attorney, Nichols was released from KCDF on November 10, 2010. Thereafter, in January 2011, he had surgery and incurred medical expenses of approximately $240,000. He filed a complaint against Knox County, alleging common law negligence. Nichols filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Knox County filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court entered an order granting Knox County’s motion after concluding that the evidence in the case did not support a finding that the acts or omissions of agents of Knox County were the proximate cause of Nichols’ fall and resulting injuries. The trial court denied Nichols’ motion after determining that, at the time of his surgery and follow-up treatment in 2011, he was no longer incarcerated. The trial court held, pursuant to the authority of Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-115 (2010), that a county’s responsibility for the payment of one’s medical expenses is limited to those incurred by the prisoner while still incarcerated. Nichols appeals. We affirm.