§47.24 Existence of Physician – Patient Relationship

The Case: Kelley v. Middle Tenn. Emergency Physicians , 133 S.W.3d 587 (Tenn. 2004).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiffs were the surviving spouse and children of a woman who died for a heart condition after being seen by a number of physicians at several hospitals. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a malpractice suit against numerous defendants.

The Bottom Line:

  • "We granted review to determine whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants in this medical malpractice lawsuit. The trial court concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that, as a matter of law, no physician-patient relationship existed. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court. After careful review of the record before us and the applicable authorities, we conclude that there are disputed issues of fact as to the existence of a physician-patient relationship, and we therefore affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals." 133 S.W.3d at 588-89.
  • "The Medical Malpractice ActFN7 does not explicitly require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. However, as we previously have stated, the Act 'codifies the common law elements of negligence-duty, breach of duty, causation, proximate cause, and damages. No claim for negligence can succeed in the absence of any one of these elements.' Kilpatrick, 868 S.W.2d at 598 (citations omitted); see also Gunter v. Lab. Corp. of Am., 121 S.W.3d 636, 639-40 (Tenn. 2003); Burroughs v. Magee, [118 S.W.3d 323, 327-28 (Tenn. 2003), reh'g denied (Oct. 28, 2003)]. The question of whether the plaintiff in a medical malpractice action must prove the existence of a physician-patient relationship relates to the first element of negligence-i.e., whether the defendant-physician owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
    FN7 Tennessee's medical malpractice statute was originally titled the 'Medical Malpractice Review Board and Claims Act of 1975.' However, when sections 29-26-101 to 29-26-114 were repealed in 1985, the title was repealed, and no new title was substituted. For ease of reference, we now refer to the statute as the 'Medical Malpractice Act.'"
    Id. at 592.
  • "Under the foregoing cases, a physician's duty of care arises from the physician-patient relationship.FN9 We next consider the circumstances under which such a relationship is established.
    FN9 The plaintiff asserts that the existence of a physician-patient relationship should not be the only basis for finding that a physician owes a duty of care to a particular person. We will address that issue later in this opinion."
    Id. at 593.
  • "In most jurisdictions in which the issue has been addressed, courts continue to require the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case to prove the existence of a physician-patient relationship, but most courts also state that such a relationship is implied if the physician affirmatively undertakes to diagnose and/or to treat the plaintiff." Id.
  • "In light of the increasing complexity of the health care system, in which patients routinely are diagnosed by pathologists or radiologists or other consulting physicians who might not ever see the patient face-to-face, it is simply unrealistic to apply a narrow definition of the physician-patient relationship in determining whether such a relationship exists for purposes of a medical malpractice case.FN15 Based upon the foregoing authorities, we hold that a physician-patient relationship may be implied when a physician affirmatively undertakes to diagnose and/or treat a person, or affirmatively participates in such diagnosis and/or treatment.
    FN15 See e.g. Raptis‑Smith v. St. Joseph's Med. Ctr., 755 N.Y.S.2d 384, 386 (N.Y. App. Div. 2003) (discussing physician-patient relationship between plaintiff and radiologist); Peterson v. St. Cloud Hosp., 460 N.W.2d 635, 638 (Minn. Ct. App. 1990) (discussing physician-patient relationship between plaintiff and pathologist)."
    Id. at 596.

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.

To schedule an appointment, contact us online or call us at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787.



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.

Client Reviews
Everything was great. You guys are a great representative. I was satisfied with everything. Truly appreciate John Day and his hard-working staff.
★★★★★
We thought that you did an excellent job in representing us in our lawsuit. We would recommend you to anyone.
★★★★★
The Law Offices of John Day is, without a doubt, the best in Nashville! They treated me with the utmost respect and tended to my every need. No question went unanswered. I was always kept informed of every step in the process. I received phenomenal results; I couldn't ask for more. I would definitely hire the Law Offices of John Day again.
★★★★★
I would definitely recommend to anyone to hire John Day's law firm because everyone was helpful, made everything clear and got the job done. I am satisfied with how my case was handled.
★★★★★
It's been a long battle but this firm has been very efficient and has done a remarkable job for me! I highly recommend them to anyone needing legal assistance. Everyone has always been very kind and kept me informed of all actions promptly.
★★★★★
I had a great experience with the Law Offices of John Day. The staff was very accommodating, and my phone calls/emails were always responded to in a timely manner. They made the entire process very easy and stress-free for me, and I had confidence that my case was in good hands. I am very happy with the results, and I highly recommend!
★★★★★