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§47.13A Duty of Hospital Generally

The Case:  Barkes v. River Park Hospital, Inc., 328 S.W.3d 829 (Tenn. 2010).

The Basic Facts:  Plaintiff sued defendant hospital claiming that the hospital’s care and treatment of her deceased husband fell below the standard of care because hospital did not enforce its own written policies and procedures which required every ER patient to be triaged by a nurse and seen by a physician. The jury assigned 100% fault to the hospital.

The Bottom Line:


·     “We…must determine whether Tennessee law permits a cause of action against a hospital for failing to enforce its policies and procedures in patient care.”  328 S.W.3d at 832.


·   “We have not previously addressed the doctrine of corporate negligence as to hospitals, and we need neither adopt nor reject it to resolve this appeal. Instead, we rely on prior Tennessee decisions permitting direct negligence actions against hospitals that have failed to exercise reasonable care in discharging duties owed directly to patients. For example, in Thompson v. Methodist Hosp., this Court stated that ‘[t]he measure of duty of a hospital is to exercise that degree of care, skill, and diligence used by hospitals generally in that community.’ 211 Tenn. 650, 367 S.W.2d 134 (1962) (quoting 41 C.J.S. Hospitals § 8). We also have affirmed hospital liability where the ‘hospital failed to discharge its duty to make its premises safe.’ Pullins v. Fentress County Gen. Hosp., 594 S.W.2d 663, 670 (Tenn. 1979). Furthermore, we have stated that ‘a hospital is required to exercise such reasonable care toward a patient as his known condition may require, and the extent and character of this care depends upon the circumstances of each case,’ O’Quin v. Baptist Mem’l Hosp., 184 Tenn. 570, 201 S.W.2d 694, 697 (1947), and that ‘[w]hen a patient enters a hospital...he is entitled to such reasonable attention as his safety may require.’ James v. Turner, 184 Tenn. 563, 201 S.W.2d 691, 694 (1941). Tennessee law clearly recognizes that hospitals owe a duty of reasonable care to their patients and may be directly liable to patients independent of any liability based on the hospital’s employees or agents. As such, Mrs. Barkes’ cause of action against River Park is cognizable in Tennessee, and the Court of Appeals erred when it held that there was no basis on which River Park could be held directly liable to Mrs. Barkes.” Id. at 832-33.


·     “Based on the material evidence presented at trial, the jury was entitled to draw the reasonable conclusion that the hospital’s failure to inform the emergency room health care providers of its policies and its failure to effectively implement a system of oversight and enforcement of its policies was negligence that caused Mr. Barkes’ death. We therefore hold that material evidence supports the jury verdict.” Id. at 834.


·        “Our recognition of a theory of direct liability does not result in the imposition of strict liability against hospitals for injuries suffered by its patients, nor will it make hospitals a guarantor of patients’ health irrespective of individual negligence or force hospitals to regulate the medical decisions of doctors practicing in the hospital. Well-established principles of negligence are applicable to actions alleging a theory of direct liability.  See Blanton v. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. Inc., 319 N.C. 372, 354 S.E.2d 455, 457 (N.C.1987) (noting that ‘what has been called corporate negligence...is no more than the application of common law principles of negligence and is not some recently developed doctrine concept, for as we have noted, Tennessee courts have long recognized that hospitals owe certain duties of care to patients that come to them for treatment and healing.” Id. at 835-36.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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