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§47.16 Duty of Nursing Home to Protect Patients From Criminal Acts of Employee

The Case: Limbaugh v. Coffee Medical Center , 59 S.W.3d 73 (Tenn. 2001).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, originally acting as the conservator for his mother, filed suit against Defendant medical center and its employee, a nursing assistant, to recover damages for his mother's injuries when she was assaulted by the nursing assistant.

The Bottom Line:

  • "[W]e have held that where a special relationship exists between the defendant and 'a person who is foreseeably at risk from . . . danger,' id. (citing [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 315 (1965)]), the defendant is under an affirmative duty to take 'whatever steps are reasonably necessary and available to protect an intended or potential victim.' Turner v. Jordan, 957 S.W.2d 815, 819 (Tenn. 1997) (quoting Naidu v. Laird, 539 A.2d 1064, 1075 (Del. 1988)). An example of this special relationship, and one most analogous to the relationship at issue in this case, is the physician/patient relationship born out of the physician's assumption of responsibility for the care and safety of another. See, e.g., Turner, 957 S.W.2d at 820-21 (holding that a psychotherapist has an affirmative duty to protect a foreseeable third party when the patient presents an unreasonable risk of danger to that party); Bradshaw, 854 S.W.2d at 872 (holding that a physician owes a duty to warn identifiable persons in the patient's family against foreseeable risks related to the patient's illness); Wharton Transport Corp. v. Bridges, 606 S.W.2d 521, 526 (Tenn. 1980) (holding that a physician owed a duty to a third party injured by a truck driver whom the physician had negligently examined and certified). It follows, then, that the relationship between a nursing home and its residents, where a nursing home voluntarily assumes an obligation to ''provide care for those who are unable because of physical or mental impairment to provide care for themselves,'' Niece v. Elmview Group Home, 929 P.2d 420, 424 (Wash. 1997) (alteration in original) (citations omitted), gives rise to an affirmative duty owed by the nursing home to exercise reasonable care to protect its residents from all foreseeable harms 'within the general field of danger which should have been anticipated.' Id. at 427." 59 S.W.3d at 79-80.
  • "In this case, the evidence clearly reflects that the risk of harm to Ms. Limbaugh was a foreseeable one. First, several members of the nursing home staff had witnessed, just eighteen days prior to the incident with Ms. Limbaugh, Ms. Ray's physical outburst directed at visitor Jennie Cox. Second, Ms. Limbaugh herself was well known by the nursing staff to physically strike out against her caretakers as a result of her dementia. Consequently, it was certainly foreseeable that this nursing assistant, who had demonstrated her propensity to be physically aggressive even when slightly provoked, presented a risk of harm to a resident also known to be combative. In addition, evidence was presented by Mr. William Moore, the administrator of the nursing home during Ms. Ray's employment, as to the nursing home's standard procedure for dealing with the errant behavior of an employee. He testified that 'if there was any contact between any associate, [who] is an employee of the facility, that is combative in any manner whatsoever, it would be reported directly to the [S]tate within 24 hours, written up, and sent in. That employee would be sent home and placed on leave.' He further testified that he would discharge any employee who had 'physically assaulted, battered, [or] touched' another person, or who otherwise had demonstrated a propensity for violence. We believe that CMC's policy for disciplining a combative employee, although not followed in this case, further demonstrates that physical abuse by staff members previously known to be physically aggressive is a foreseeable danger against which reasonable precautions must be taken." Id. at 80.

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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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.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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