Legal Update: Health Care Liability vs. Assault and Battery

Image courtesy of Huebi | Wikimedia Commons

In C.D. et. al. v. Keystone Continuum, LLC d/b/a Mountain Youth Academy, plaintiff, a minor, was a resident of Mountain Youth Academy, a trauma-focused residential treatment facility. The plaintiff got into a physical altercation with an employee of the defendant, Mountain Youth Academy. The complaint alleged, among other things, that the employee pulled the minor plaintiff to the ground and stomped on his foot, causing him injury.

The defendant moved to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint in this case alleges health care liability claims. The defendant argued that because of plaintiff's (1) failure to provide pre-suit notice under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 (Supp. 2017), and (2) the plaintiff's failure to file a certificate of good faith with the complaint, id. § 29-26-122, the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice. The trial court held that the plaintiff's claims sounded in health care liability. It dismissed the mother’s action with prejudice. The court also dismissed the minor’s action, but it did so without prejudice. The defendant appealed, arguing that the minor’s action should have been dismissed with prejudice. The plaintiffs also present issues. They argue that the trial court erred in ruling that their claims are based upon health care liability. Additionally and alternatively, the plaintiffs argue that their claims fall within the “common knowledge” exception to the general requirement of expert testimony in a health care liability action.

The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff's claims for assault and battery were unrelated to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services. Therefore, the plaintiff's assault and battery claims did not fall within the ambit of a “health care liability action” as defined by the statute and that the plaintiff's direct claims against the defendant, for negligent supervision and/or training of its employees, are health care liability claims but ones involving matters that ordinary laypersons will be able to assess by their common knowledge. Hence, expert medical testimony was not required and the plaintiff's claims were not required to file a good faith certificate with the complaint as to that claim. Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that mother’s failure to provide the defendant with pre-suit notice mandated a dismissal of her claim for negligent supervision and/or training, but that dismissal should have been without prejudice rather than with prejudice.

The court’s decision in C.D. v. Keystone provides further evaluation and assessment of whether a claim falls under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act and when a good faith certificate is required for certain claims. Moving forward, the court’s decision will likely be used by plaintiffs to show that additional claims can be brought in a case involving a THCLA claim and that all claims against a health care provider do not necessarily fall under the THCLA. The court’s opinion also attempted to clarify the issue of whether a negligent supervision claim should fall under the THCLA. However, the court’s opinion is still vague as to whether the negligent supervision claim should be brought as a separate claim in the complaint or a theory underlying a claim for violation of the THCLA.

Rebecca Adelman